Category Archives: I am a Creator

Denver Startup Culture

tl; dr;

Is Broken, but fixable.

the long form:

I got into a Facebook fight with a CEO the other day. He was mad i said a blog post on his site was click bait (which it was, but the popular term is content marketing). I was mad because it doled out praise for “making Denver Startup Week happen” to a group of people that certainly did participate in the week, but only 1 was a member of our actual team that drives the event, AKA “Making it happen”. As a member of the team that makes it happen i was a bit insulted. Not that i was not included, but that my work was being ascribed to others. Coincidentally in an effort to quantify my time, I track it (not 100% well, yet), this year i spent approximately 160 hours on Denver Startup week. Had I billed for that time it’d be over $10,000. That’s not a small investment on my part, it’s larger than several sponsorship levels in fact. I don’t say that as a “I do more than you” just as a statement of what i  do, and it’s relative value.

The next day (i kid you not) i see a blog post by builtin Colorado that says there’s no coworking in LoDo. When in fact I helped launch Uncubed, which started in RiNo but has been in LoDo (15th and Blake) for mmm 3 years now, and has existed longer than built in Colorado. Several other places were mentioned as “nearby options”, all are commonly written about in Builtin and/or Tech crunch because they raise money (which to be clear is totally fine).

That’s the crux of what I think is broken in our community. A focus on money raised. On exits. Not on who’s building and running businesses. 

I think raising money is fine, I think selling your company for tons of money is fine, i think talking about those things is fine. They’re obviously economic drivers, they creates jobs, etc. They’re sexy and attract attention.

But.

We’re making our focus around the “Denver startup community” solely about who’s raised how much, how much did the company sell for. We talk about how much VC money flooded Denver in a given time period, but we’re ignoring those companies that form, and continue to exist that don’t take VC money. Uncubed Started with no money from anyone but the three founders. 360|Conferences, started with nothing at all. Last year we had revenue of about $250,000.

We’re not talking about companies that have been around years, are profitable, are doing things. Sure they’re less ‘sexy’ and often (but not always) employee fewer people, but they’re contributing to the Denver community just as much (and I feel more) as the latest well funded Tech Crunch darling, that may or may not even exist next year.

So, all that said, I think that’s now the goal for my blogging efforts. I don’t know if that will be here on my blog or if I’ll spin up something new. I’d like to get a few folks to help me cover things. There’s more to the story of Denver’s amazing startup scene than is being talked about, and I think it’s time we fixed that.

Want to know more, stay tuned. Want to help, let me know.

360|iDev 2015, What an amazing thing we did.

So i just finished my big event of the year, 360|iDev and wow. What a rush (as always).

TL;DR; So honored to share a room with so many awesome people being awesome. Making amazing things, being parts of amazing teams, etc. I honestly feel this event not only has a positive impact on my life each year, but also does on others, which is humbling to say the least.

There’s an amazing photo pool here.

Now the long form.

I start planning 360|iDev the moment the preceding event ends, so yes, I’ve already begun work on next years event.  A 4 day conference with 55 speakers, 400 attendees and a handful of sponsors isn’t something that comes together in a few weeks.

There were a few good, and one bad thing this year. One of the things I like about doing 360|iDev is that we bring about 400 people into Denver, more than 85% of whom aren’t local to CO. Many who aren’t local to the United States. Sure when compared to city wide events, that’s nothing, but to me it’s a big damn deal.

360|iDev is my bread-n-butter. It keeps enough money coming in, my wife hasn’t forced me to get a job… yet, LOL. I get to see people from around the world that i may only see once (maybe twice if I’m lucky) a year. I get to show off my home town (by claim, if not birth), and show everyone why Denver is so awesome, why it’s where I’m where I am.

There was a lot of great stuff this week, much of it conference specific, so I’ll talk about it on the conference blog, but some of it more personal and Denver specific.

Lunch (good)

Last year we ate lunch outside the hotel because yeah $50/person for conference lunch is stupid and well hotels are often stupid. One place however can’t handle 400 ppl, no matter what they think or say. Lunch last year wasn’t awesome. Long lines, long waits, etc. As experiments go, it failed.

This year I had 3 (4 on Tuesday because of Civic Center eats) options for attendees. Lunch tickets were available for each place, people picked what they wanted to eat. It was awesome to see groups form on the fly each day to explore someplace new. We spread the lunch tickets, so no single vendor had more than 150 people a day. So far (bills are still coming in) it looks like i spent half as much this year as last, and had 3x more options for people. That’s awesome!

The only thing that went a bit sideways was my failure to account for vendors not being open on weekends. Out of 3 only 1 was open on Sundays. Oops.

Local Community (good)

One of the things being downtown has afforded was the opportunity to spread some money around vs. bottling it up in a hotel chain. This year we spread about $18,000 to local restaurants in the downtown area. I think that’s pretty awesome, i know i’m not a rain maker, but i think any time I can give money to local businesses, that’s a great thing. Not only am i not paying for over priced hotel food, but I’m boosting (in a small way, sure) the local economy.

While small, i think every dollar helps. I think as a conference organizer, it’s my job to not just dump money into the pockets of a massive hotel chain. It’s my job to better the city that is hosting my event. Whether that’s financially or even just from exposure like not keeping everyone indoors all day and night.

Police (Bad)

During lunch on Tuesday, the attendees ate lunch at Civic Center Eats. A few attendees were enjoying their meal on the grass when some Denver PD officers came over. Sadly instead of assuming these folks weren’t criminals, vagrants or some type of malcontents, they treated a group of international visitors to Denver like criminals, demanding they all present ID while telling them they were sitting in the wrong grass. Not cool Denver PD, not cool. I get we’re trying to revitalize the grass in the park, but maybe wrap that section in tape, vs. the handful of tiny ass signs. Also maybe, just maybe assume people (wearing conference badges, even!) aren’t trying to kill the grass or break the rules and start with “Hey guys, can you move elsewhere, this grass is off limits for now.” vs. oh i dunno, accosting people eating their lunch, making them all present ID before letting them go.

back-side-black-textAs someone who brings people from around the world to Denver, i’m not super thrilled that happened. Small incident, yes? bad experience for people in Denver the first time ever, yup. In the end we all joked about it, but is that really what Denver wants people to remember about it?

I have much respect for law enforcement, I know their jobs are hard, but that’s not an excuse. Be better please Denver PD.

If you’re one of this years’ attendees, thank you, really, truly, thank you. Being able to do this event, and make even a small living is huge! I can’t thank every single speaker, sponsor and attendee enough for being a part of something so truly amazing. Conferences are hard, harder still when balancing making a living, with making an awesome experience. I already can’t wait until next year.

My First Day with Pebble Time

IMG_1768I lingered around the house yesterday before heading out for a work function just so I could get my new Pebble Time. WORTH IT!

I backed the Time the moment i heard about it. No regrets, it’s a nice piece of kit, at least so far in my first half a day ish, I’m really enjoying it as a smart watch.

The screen is (as most tech journo’s have said) not as crisp as say the AppleWatch, but that’s not terrible. It’s all kinds of readable in any light, at almost any angle. That’s a big deal for me. While i love the shake to light feature, I like not needing it very often.

IMG_1756I’m kinda torn on the body. I liked the sleek look of the original Pebble a lot, I suspect I’ll get used to the new style, but I do miss the seamlessness of that first gen. What I do like is the buttons. I like that they’re formed into single line vs. being three distinct buttons.

Also, the new body is definitely eye catching, a friend last night noticed it immediately, and asked what it was.

I like the little “thank you” that Pebble added to the back case for those of us who backed the original as well as the Time, kinda cool, makes mine (and thousands of others) a little unique.

The watch app that accompanies the new Time is much improved over the original. It’s not yet in the iOS app store (I’m running a beta at the time I’m typing this). Hopefully it drops soon, as Time isn’t compatible with the original Pebble management App. That’s a bummer for those who’re receiving their Pebbles this week.

The app itself is much improved aesthetically. You can see each face, a quick tap on a check box and the face is loaded or activated if it was already there. You can even set a default face that is your final destination when pressing the back button. I hated accidentally going past my preferred face to another, then having to click back to it, so that’s nice.

Depending on the face you can manage it’s access to the time line feature that’s new to the Pebble OS, you can also more readily access any settings that might come with that face.

IMG_1770You can also allow access to calendars, and such, which then let’s your appointments flow into the time line. Handy for sure.

Apps are still a thing, and I’m sure it’s just me, but they feel more accessible, maybe it’s the upgraded storage. On my previous Pebble with only 8 “slots” most apps despite their utility competed for space with faces and other apps.

Apps like Leaf now feel easier to use and access, where i used to have to remember i had an app, it’s already second nature to think about it. Maybe because it’s summer and Denver skipped spring and went from cold and wet to hot, so I think about my house temps more, I dunno.

I’m excited by the potential for smart bands, I hope folks take advantage of that feature. Adding battery, sensors, etc via watches adds so much utility to the Pebble Time. Also open sourcing the files and letting the community get involved, shows a lot of love and respect for their users from the Pebble Team.

I’m very happy with the Time already, and envision a long run with this as my daily driver watch, sorry watch box, you’re going to have to wait a while longer.

 

I built an app.

IMG_0627Ok I didn’t. I guess I product managed an app :)

Tom and his team worked with me on “Edit Me“. I’ve helped get lots of apps launched (no shortage of 360|iDev and Flex apps out there, that I helped with), but this is the first “not a conference attendees app” app.

Edit Me, serves a real purpose. Ever had a text message, tweet, Facebook post, etc  that you wanted to run by someone before sending? Maybe you’re a bit too heated, maybe too sad. Maybe just to check your tone, or make sure it’s not wildly offensive, etc. Or just to have a friend proof read it for you. Well that’s what we set out to solve with Edit Me.

The idea is pretty straightforward, i’ve got some short form text i want to run by someone before sending it, (Flying Spaghetti Monster knows I often need it)

3-5_1You fire up Edit me, pick your friend who’ll be the editor, throw in a title, and add your text. Off it goes. What’s cool is you and/or the recipient don’t need to register, the exchanges and notifications are bound to device not yet another set of user credentials. When they get the email it’s got an app URL (if they don’t there’s a link to get the app first) and it’ll pull up what needs to be edited.

Something more robust like users may come later, same for more granular edits, right now you offer up your edits and they’re accepted or rejected en masse. There’s no (yet) “Change this word or sentence” it’s “here’s my version of the entire text you sent” even if the change is only one or two words. We wanted to launch what we thought was the most useful version one we could, with plans to do a lot more cool things to the app as we go.

4_5I’m really excited about Edit Me, and find it really useful.

We also want to make a Mac version, which I think is going to be even more useful. While I do often need short form editing/proof reading, I do that a lot more on my mac than my iDevices.

Price: Not free. We went with $.99 because well free isn’t a sustainable model. We think Edit Me has value and utility, and is worth something. Plus really, isn’t not saying something stupid on the internet worth $.99?

NO IAP. While I won’t use the blanket “IAP is the devil” I will say when I am looking for new apps and games, seeing the “Contains In-App Purchase” label makes me think twice before even tapping to see the details. We wanted to make an app that was useful as it is, and requires no extra purchase.

If you’ve ever sat and looked at your messages, twitter or facebook app, and wondered “Should I send this, is mom going to get mad?” Edit Me is probably worth $.99 to you. Because then you could easily ask your sister or friend.

One more Stylus review

So I’ve done a few of these. Right now (and this one may be the one) I’m in love with the Dotpen stylus. It’s really nice!

IMG_0622The thing that drew me to it initially was the tip. I can’t stand those big nubbin stylii that have a nub that obscures what I’m doing. My other stylus has a fine point as well, and the Dotpen has a finer point!

On top of the fine point, I liked that the point was protected by a cap, like a pen, and that there was a shirt clip. Not that I’ll be clipping it to a pocket, but in my bag it’s easier if the stylus is clipped in. The cap is a nice feature as I tend to obsess about the fragility of the point. IMG_0624

 

 

The other plus (yes there’s more plusses than minus’) AAA batteries!!! The thing I hated the most about my True Glide, it takes AAAA batteries. I didn’t even know those existed, and they’re rare enough that they cost a fortune. Well a relative fortune for batteries. I can get a few eLoop AAA’s and be all set.

There’s only two draw backs to this great stylus.

The power button is right where you grip the stylus. I’ve accidentally turned it off a few times. It’s not a major issue as it just clicks on and off (this isn’t a BT enabled stylus, those are nice, but I’ll take universally useful over app by app useful).

The second draw back is a bit more severe. It’s noisy. My True Glide Apex has a soft rubber nib, and the Dot Pen uses a hard plastic. For casual use it’s not really that big a deal, but for taking notes, it’d be a deal breaker. I’ve more or less come to terms with not taking hand written notes on my iPad so that helps, LOL. However the little bit of art doodling I’ve done, it’s pretty clickie. Not terrible, but you’ll notice the sound and hear it.

Noisy nub aside, this is a very nice stylus, and works great on the iPad Air 2. If you’re in the market for a nice fine point stylus that isn’t a “smart” stylus, I definitely recommend the Dotpen

 

The Dark side of 2FA

Screenshot 2014-12-05 10.12.59Ok maybe Down side, is better than dark side. But there’s a suck for sure.

I’m a big proponent of 2 factor Authentication (2FA). While not the most convenient, with cyber attacks happening more and more frequently I’ll take the inconvenience over having to fight to get my bank account back, etc.

A few weeks ago I got a new iPhone. Like many it was iPhone 6-mas, and my time had come.

I picked up my phone, restored from an iCloud backup and went on with my life. Until I tried to login to my blogs (work and personal). WordPress uses google authenticator, which is nice, because many sites can use it, so you don’t need some type of app for each one (except name.com who uses another app, more later).

To my surprise you don’t simply use the app from a new phone (despite it being a complete and in my case encrypted back up of the previous device). My auth credential didn’t work. I had no idea why. I tweeted and thankfully someone pointed out having the exact same issue and mentioned being lucky their old phone was around. Mine was too, so I powered it up.

Thankfully I was able to login, delete the old credentials and establish new ones on my new phone.

The worst part is that wordpress doesn’t provide a “I don’t have my phone” type recovery option. Had I erased my phone, I’m not sure what I would have done. I lucked out. My payment processor Stripe, at least has a “Reset my pwd/credentials” option which is a nice nuclear option in this type of scenario.

Not so much with my name.com account. They choose to use some other pass key style app, which is fine. Since I don’t login often it didn’t occur to me to hop in before wiping my phone a few days ago… Of course I went to login because i got a domain expiry notice, and now I’m locked out (no option for “oops my phone is no longer tied to the right credentials”) and waiting for support to reply to my email.

I’m still pro-2FA, and I understand the underlying reasons these things work like they do, but at the same time if we want the average user to get on board, we need to have better recovery options, so that when a phone is lost, etc someone isn’t locked out of something that could be immensely vital.

Good Conference Wifi

A friend of mine in the industry posted this this other day. On reading it I was a bit insulted. Nothing is ever cut and dry and conference tech certainly isn’t.

At 360|iDev this year the wireless was I’ll admit, craptastic. I had outsourced the wifi because the hotel wanted nearly $20,000 for what they called the mid level (Non streaming, non VPN or something like that level). Thats not including the rest of the AV quote.

Eric says there’s two factors in good conference wifi; the desire to deliver a great experience (which I’d also argue in the scope of things wifi is not a major part of that), and the desire to spend the money to make it happen.

There’s a third factor, budget. 360|iDev is about $300-500 less than his event. It’s also in Downtown Denver, where hotel lunches run at a minimum $50/person. My AV and internet options came down to $47,000 or $13,000. One was in my budget (previous years events came in around $11,000, so that’s what i planned around), the other not even remotely. Not just ‘not in budget’ but would have put 360|iDev 2014 firmly in the negative. Since my sole source of income is my conferences, taking losses is something i shy away from.

Was i bummed the wireless was crappy at 360|iDev, hell ya I was. Will i strive to be better next year, damn right, I’m even planning to spend considerably more than I’ve ever spent on it. Do i think a conference is less awesome because of the wifi? It’s never entered my mind. When I’m at a conference I’m there for the sessions, yes it’s inconvenient, but I’ve never left thinking “I’ll never be back, i couldn’t tweet during that session.” Also, the few times I’ve really wanted wifi at a conference were because the content was lame, I’d rather solve that problem. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not diminishing the value of wifi, and like I said, I’ll be working harder to make next year’s better than this. But when I’m thinking of attending an event (something I plan to do more of this coming year) whether their wifi was awesome or not, is about as important to me as the color of the hotel carpet. Ok, maybe a bit more important than that, but not much.

My point here isn’t actually about wifi, it’s about claiming something is universally easy and those that don’t do what you do, are doing it wrong. I could easily argue that if you’re sessions aren’t technically deep and sending attendees home with usable new skills, you’re doing it wrong. Or any other biased, “the way I do it” assertions.