Category Archives: 360|Whisperings

Startups, who’s in to be Apple?

Like most of Nerd America I started Reading the Steve Jobs Biography last night. I got in some good reading at the gym this morning and started thinking. I haven’t made it to the Apple years yet, but as I was reading it, thinking about Apple, about Jobs, startups and about death, a notion started forming.

Who’s going to step up and be Apple? Heck, where are our Hewlett and Packard? Our Michael Dell?  Bill Gates?

I work in a space with a fair amount of startups, and being so close to Boulder I hear about a lot more of them, and of course I’m in the Silicon Valley for events a fair bit too, and of course I follow my friend Eric Norlin. So I’m not uninformed when it comes to startups.

I know there’s awesome startups out there doing cool things (like Bloom). I work in the same building as one. But in looking at them and at most other startups, I wonder, who’s solving tomorrow’s problems? Who’s working on making the next big thing? NOT the next thing for AOL or Google to acquire. It seems that most startups are starting to be bought by someone, existing more than 5 years isn’t in the plans. That certainly is the exit that makes the most financial sense for their backers, and the founders even. I wonder sometimes if our VC and Angel worlds are so wrapped up in ‘quick bucks’ and early exits, that they’re encouraging young founders to not focus on building companies that can or will be around 20 or 30 years. Let alone build companies that are focused on tomorrow’s problems. Sure messy contacts, old school comic readers, and lack of robot balls are problems worth solving, that’s not my point. My point is there should be a balance, and I don’t see it.

Looking at Techstars and Ycombinator I see awesome companies making cool things like gMail plugins and robot balls with LEDs in them, and new takes on training sites, sites about treating musicians like stock, and such. But I wonder will any of them exist in 5-10 years? I suspect not. They’ll either have folded up and moved on, or been absorbed into some other larger thing. And that’s ok in it’s own right, but where does that leave us? The Country of Dell and HP and Apple and Microsoft? I feel like it leaves us with a sad lack of innovative long term tech companies. VCs are bitching about immigration policy not letting tech founders into the country in high enough numbers. I’d argue the gov’t should be looking at these VCs and asking where the companies that will lead innovation are and why they aren’t helping build them? I’d be thrilled to let the next Bill Gates in on a Startup Visa, but not if he plans to simply build something he can sell to Microsoft for a quick buck.

I know in startup circles and no doubt in VC circles getting acquired is a win. In my book it isn’t. I remember sitting around beers with some friends talking about a company in Boulder that was bought before it even left private beta. To me that was a fail. Sure they made out like bandits, everyone got paid. But they were barely a business, they had maybe a few customers, maybe a few hundred, but they were beta testers not paying customers. I suspect that’s why I’m drawn towards brick and mortar style businesses. Conferences, coworking, etc. Because those businesses are immune or less politely often excluded from the hub bub of tech investing. Therefore for the most part they require bootstrapping which it seems so many startups can’t or won’t do. I’ve seen ideas live and die based on acceptance to Techstars. While I have no doubt Brad Feld and co. know a winner or at least a good horse when they see it, I’m sure they’d agree they can’t see all the winners (or losers) all the time.

That kinda brings this all back around for me. I’ve never asked for money or (at least yet) taken out a bank loan for 360|Conferences or Uncubed. I live and die by what I can do on my own (or with partners as the case may be). In both cases i think to myself often, are these businesses that will be around in 10 years? Can they be a legacy, can I actually do something good with them? I think both can. I don’t know if either will, but I think both can, and I’m happy to try and find out. I think both started for the right reasons. Trying to change systems that exist, for the better of the communities they exist in,  which to me is the right reason to start a business. Will I get rich? be acquired by someone? Probably not on both counts, but that’s ok because that wasn’t and isn’t my motivator. I like money don’t get me wrong :) I want to live a comfortable life, but that’s the extent of it. I don’t need to make something someone else wants to buy so I can pay back investors and retire at 35.

I wonder if startup founders go to bed at night thinking about the future. Not the future where they get bought, where tech crunch writes them up and they secure yet another round of funding. A future where they employ thousands. A future where they and their product/service are shaping lives. A future where they make a difference for more than a year. Sure payroll next month is important, press is important I’m not discounting that, but if they’re not thinking about 10 years from now, I’d say they’re doing it at least a little wrong.

 

Looking Forward, Looking Back

It’s been an interesting year. More so than normal years. It’s also the end of a decade, so I’ve got some thoughts on that too. Fair warning. This is a longy.

Decade first:

in 2000 I worked for a company that was basically an IT Staffing firm that decided to get into software. I worked internally on a web app that would (in their terms) revolutionize staffing. I bailed, they failed, it was 2000, that happened a lot to a lot of people and companies.

I spent most of the 2000’s as a programmer, first doing ColdFusion, then moving to Flex. It never occurred to me to try out M$ tools, or any other. I liked Macromedia (Now Adobe) offerings and stuck with them.

I was my own boss several times as an Indie contractor, and was a cube monkey several times. Each (except one) was a good experience, a ton of fun, and formed lasting personal and business friendships.

I bought my first house in Perris CA, and my second in Riverside CA. Both were awesome in their own ways, despite being an hour or more from where I worked.

Most importantly, I met my wife Nicole.

We met thru a mutual friend whom I used to work with years past, and she was currently working with (Props to Scott Dunn for the intr0)

We moved to Denver. We were supposed to move a few months after meeting. Before I proposed, even. She had an opportunity to come out to Denver, and I had no major ties to CA. That opportunity dried up, and re-emerged 6 months later, and here we are.

We bought a house in Highlands Ranch, before we realized what Highlands Ranch was. 2 years after that, we moved to downtown Denver.

I started a conference that was supposed to be a one off, just for kicks event. It’s grown to be 3 distinct events, a few one off events around the world here and there, and my full time job (more in 2009)

2009

I’ve gone full time, totally dependent on 360|Conferences for income, lost a business partner, brought Nicole into the business, learned how to use Quickbooks, stopped writing code, just to name the big ones.

Going full time with the conference business wasn’t part of the plan, not in 2009 anyway. I was at EffectiveUI as the Community Evangelist, sadly a position, not enough of the company was on board with. When i left, I decided, well if the conferences are going to support me ever, they might as well start now. Since taking the job at EUI, i had stopped writing code, well I wrote a little, building small apps for internal/sales use, but by and large, i had stopped being a full time developer.

So I jumped. Eyes wide open.

All in all it’s been what I expected, stressful, awesome, a struggle, the best decision (Next to marrying Nicole) I’ve ever made.

Tom leaving was a shock in many ways, though I suspected we wouldn’t stay partners thru 2010, I just wasn’t sure how it would come down.

Our approaches to business are too different. When we’re “on”, we’re “ON” a totally creative innovative powerhouse. When we’re “off”, we’re “OFF” sadly we were off more than on.

After dealing with the shock and other feelings associated with going from partnership to “just me” basically, i had to learn to use quickbooks. That ain’t fun. I’m fairly comfortable with book keeping but quickbooks is a kludge IMHO. But oh well it’s what we’ve got. I’ve paid a book keeper to clean the books up, then I’ll take 100% ownership of that.

What am I looking at for 2010?

360|iDev will over take 360|Flex as my biggest event. Short of Adobe being more supportive of it’s third party developer eco system that is. If they figure out how to make third party developers thrive on their platforms, 360|Flex will grow. 360|Flex will and does rock, but there’s a distinct lack of love for third party tools built on and around Flex. That will be HUGE.

Apple may not give them love, but they at least don’t hinder their third parties.

360|Mobile, which was the ill-fated InsideMobile will grow and become it’s own thing. I’ll keep it small, but the non apple mobile space is hot, and quite frankly exciting, I can’t wait to see what’s going on there.

360|Whisperings will reach critical mass. Of the small amount of content on the site right now, it all sells monthly. A few purchased only, but something. The day I write checks to the authors, will be a huge day for me!

I’ll have a reliable, livable income coming from conferences/events. The business will reach an as yet unattained level of stability.

I’ll spend more time with Nicole, we’ll do more fun things, travel more, and enjoy life and each other’s company even more than we already do.

I really want to see The Flex Show grow. jeff and I love doing the show, and I want to see more the Flex Community get involved.

i’d like to do some more Denver community stuff. Ignite Denver is going strong, and I hope 2010 sees it grow and become a staple of the community. I really want to see something eventwise around literacy. A Festival of Books, something.

Sony Ditching Proprietary eBook Format! Huzza!

This is awesome news for eReader users and publishers! It’s one less format to support/worrysony-prs-700-touchscreen-ereader about, and frankly it was one we hadn’t even started to look at. for 360|Whisperings, but probly should, at least until this move is complete.

Over on the MobileRead forums, they’ve created a list of compatible ePub readers, great work.

I’m really glad there’s some consolidation shaking out (finally). I’m really shocked it was Sony of all company’s that backed down on proprietary. I mean, it’s Sony, I don’t think they’ve ever released hardware that didn’t have an accompanying proprietary memory stick, or file format. ATRAC anyone?

This is big. ePub is a great format, i’ve not complaints about it. I’d love to see Amazon put their pipe down long enough to see the forest for the trees. The Kindle is (sadly because I own one) approaching flash in the pan status. Amazon’s own practices are going to marginalize it as a device.

I’m getting more and more worried about the Kindle as time goes on. Not only is Amazon, not making it better, but they’re making it worse. I was just looking at the nominees for best Fantasy Novel, several were “Text to Speach: Not Enabled” WTF!

No new software? The last release seemed to be bug fixes, users are clamoring for features, and being ignored. Amazon isn’t Apple, and unless they realize that they have a device with a lot going against it, and the only success will be an army of happy owners preaching the virtues of the device, they’re gonna fail.

eBook creation on the Mac – SUCKS

Since Tom and I launched 360|Whisperings, it’s been a massive learning curve. Technologically speaking primarily.

It turns out that eBook creation on a Mac is something of a… well it doesn’t seem to happen much, so the tools either aren’t there, or suck.

When we started down the road to becoming eBook publishers, I had no idea the levels of hell it was to create the myriad formats that most common eBook readers, read.

We started with the Kindle, because well it’s the easiest. You see Amazon’s DTP portal let’s you upload your work, and bam, they handle converting it. You technically can start with a PDF or word doc, but those come out looking, well, Jenky is a good word. However the portal creates HTML that you can then download and tweak. Once I got the hang of that, I simply re-create the content in clean, spartan HTML. Then I zip it up, and bam, it’s a Kindle friendly (propreitary) eBook, ready for sale on their site.

Since so few people own Kindle’s and only the US can even buy them, we wanted to make sure to not neglect the other formats, namely mobi (which the Kindle’s format is a derivitive of) and ePub.

I looked high and low for tools, checked the forums, etc. I finally found the common tool is Mobipocket creator. It’s Windows only. Blech. I’ve got a VM now, who’s only purpose is to run MobiPocket Creator.

There’s also Calibre, which is nice, not overly stable, but nice. It can take a .prc (the basic output of MobiPocket Creator, and the same as mobi) and turn it into an ePub doc. I think Calibre has a ton of potential. The UI is less than stellar, and the crashiness, well that sucks, but the converting formats, that’s huge!!

So at the end, we’ve got the three primary formats, PDF is also an option too, when we create them.

Sidenote: There’s also Sigil, which is super new and pre-Alpha. It’s an actual editor that then saves out ePub. While it’s nice, it’s a bit feature starved at the moment to be truly useful to me.

Why eContent should NEVER cost the same as printed

(I’ll preface this post with, A lot of publishers seem to get it, based on most prices found on Amazon’s Kindle store. This post is really derived from an interesting question i was asked over twitter.)

Beyond the ridiculously obvious “you get nothing physical” there’s a lot of reasons why an eBook shouldn’t cost as much as any printed version of the same book.

Let’s look at what goes into the price of a printed book vs. an eBook.

eBook Paper
Writing of course
editing Sure
marketing Some will argue it’s value, but yes
printing Nope, not even a little yup, and binding, and color correction, etc.
distribution The Internets trucks, and stores
Stores the Internets again shelf space, depreciation, discount selling

So given that several important factors in price (setting a price that when discounted due to depreciation is still profitable for example) don’t apply to eBooks, why should we as consumers be expected to pay a price similar to that of a hardback book, for an eBook?

While the cheap consumer part of me wants eBooks to be $.99 i acknowledge that it’s a bit unrealistic, since a great deal goes into writing a book, and while a single song is $.99 an entire book, shouldn’t be. Should a book be over $10 for the eBook version? No.

I feel a certain amount of pity for the publishing industry. While the music and movie industry got their heads kicked in, and alienated customers by the thousands, the book industry (rather than learn) watched from a far (i presume) assuming they were immune. Then Amazon came and fucked it all up for them.

Now they’re doing the same thing those other two industries did (killing speach to text on the Kindle, charging $15 for an eBook, etc), and not surprisingly the same type of backlash is being felt.

Publishing at least seems to have learned a little from their cousins in movies and music, but not enough I think.

Kindle Owner Meetup June 6th

So this will either be a really cool meetup like I used to go to with my B5, or it’ll be a mug fest for an enterprising theif. I came across this on the latest Kindle Chronicles.

You can get more info here from Kindleboards.
Sounds like the Denver one is going to be the Starbucks on 16th at Blake. Very convenient since that’s the one I work from when I need to get out of the house. So be there at 10am this Saturday.

I haven’t seen too many other Kindles in the wild (and haven’t been showing mine off either mind you) so it’ll be interesting to see how Denver turns out on the Kindle front.

I’m hoping to meet other folks who are doing more than just reading on the Kindle, that could be a cool thing for 360|Whisperings (which by the way has 2 articles up on the Amazon store now! Mate Review and Cairngorm write up.)

If you’re local, hope to see you there!

The Kindle needs an iTunes app

Amazon quietly roled out kindle.amazon.com the other day. It’s a pretty cool but only slightly useful idea.

picture-3 It’s a cool idea, you login with your amazon account and can see your Kindle content, mostly.

I’ve been thinking on this for a while and I think (I hope) that kindle.amazon.com is Amazon’s first step in ‘killing it’ as the kids say.

A lot of people have said, myself included, that the iPod alone wasn’t the winning solution, iTunes was a huge part the success. library management that works flawlessly with the device. The Kindle needs this, like yesterday.

The Kindle UI is craptastic, and there’s no way to manage content. iTunes is the secret sauce for the iPod/iPhone. you don’t need to keep all your stuff on the device, or manage it from the device. There’s an easy to use, clean interface on the desktop to manage all your media, then you sync what you want. It’s all contained and orderly and easy to manage.picture-6

The Kindle has nothing like that. You manage your media on the Kindle itself with basic “Remove from device” functionality, which puts (purchased) content into the archive, which Amazon stores in the cloud. You can pull archived content back into the Kindle, but that’s it. It’s on or off the device.

What about stuff you put on the Kindle yourself? You’re SOL. User created content can’t be archived, it can only be deleted. Sure you can keep it on the computer in a folder somewhere and when you plug the Kindle in you can copy it over again, but that’s janky to say the least.

kindle.amazon.com comes close, allowing you to manage your Kindle library (except you can only see it, not control/change anything) and see your annotations… on purchased content only. Content you’ve put on the device is notably missing. Meaning annotations you’ve placed on ebooks you loaded yourself are still tricky to retrieve/make use of and only available on the Kindle itself.

If Amazon really wants to nail the eBook reader market, they need to realize what Apple did, a device alone, while awesome, isn’t the solution. The desktop client that makes it easy to manage your library is a must. It might be too much to ask, but it’d be nice if the me@free.kindle.com functionality was built into the desktop app so I could convert my PDFs etc on my own and sync over USB.

I think the first company to launch a nice and easy to use eBook reader (the Kindle MOSTLY fits the bill) AND desktop library management application will be the winner. Until then, the race isn’t won and I hope Amazon doesn’t drop the ball at this important point in the eBook race.