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Predictions 2015: How’d I Do?

By - December 28, 2015

ea8e9ff77d5d1332ef85b4eded4b28953aa4f64bEach January for the past 13 years, I’ve been making predictions on this site. Twelve months later, I pull back and review how those predictions have fared. I’ve already got a running list of predictions for 2016, but in this post, I want to handicap how my prognostications for 2015 turned out.

I made a total of 12 predictions in 2015, so I’ll run through each in turn.

1. Uber will begin to consolidate its namesake position in the “The Uber-ization of everything” trend. 

In essence, I predicted that Uber would launch delivery and logistics businesses in 2015. This wasn’t particularly insightful of me – the company had already launched two small pilots (UberEssentials and UberFresh)  in the Fall of 2014. But in January 2015, Uber killed UberEssentials, and for months, there was no expansion of either service. So was I wrong? Nope. In April 2015, Uber launched UberEats in four markets (since grown to a dozen), and this past October, Uber launched Uber Rush in three major US cities.  I think I got this one right.

2. Related, Uber will be the center of a worldwide conversation about the impact of tech and business culture on the world. 

Well, again I think I got this one right. And again, it was a pretty safe bet that the company would be the talk of tech and culture throughout 2015. A major proof, to my mind, was Rachel Whetstone’s decampment from head of Google comms to take a similar role at Uber this past May. For nearly a decade, Whetstone had successfully guided Google as it consolidated its position as the world’s most controversial and talked about tech brand (yes, yes, Facebook and Apple might compete for that honor, but we can argue that another time). But in 2015, Uber was the go to protagonist (and antagonist) of the tech conversation, from its incessant opportunistic fundraising to its starring role in critical economic, policy and cultural issues. I think it’s fair to say the company took pole position from Google, Facebook, and Apple in 2015.

3. Google will face existential competition from Facebook due to Facebook’s Atlas offering.

This prediction stemmed from my penchant for adtech geekery, and while I think it will prove long term true, I didn’t find a lot of proof that it came to fruition in 2015. Facebook made steady gains here, including the hiring of key Google adtech talent, but I think this one needs another year to prove out.

4. The Apple Watch will be seen as a success.

Well, you didn’t see this one coming did you? I’m usually an Apple naysayer (though I love the Mac), but I believed that the watch was a natural extension of the phone, and I still believe this to be the case. The results are decidedly mixed – Apple’s Tim Cook agrees with me, naturally. But plenty of others believe Apple’s foray into wearables was a disappointment. Apple doesn’t break out units shipped for its watches (a strong sign the company is itself disappointed), and estimates range from a low of single digit millions to a high of nearly 20 million. Given the paucity of data here, all I have is my gut, and my gut says, the Apple Watch was a push. Not a failure, not a success. Since I said it was going to be seen as a success, I think I whiffed this one.

5. And Apple Pay will not.

Long term, I think I’ll be proven wrong on this one, but in 2015, I think I got it right. This Fall, Bloomberg called Apple Pay “underwhelming,” and Cook’s prediction that 2015 would be “the year of Apple Pay” is widely seen as off the mark. However, I think 2016 will prove Cook directionally correct.

6. But Beacons will re-emerge and take root.

Ummm…my first reaction to this one is to cringe – beacons were not really top of mind for anyone in tech this past year. And try as I might, I couldn’t find proof otherwise. So, another whiff, at least for now.

7. Google’s Nest will build or buy a scaled home automation service business.

Well, no. Nest did launch a developer platform, which is related, but not the same. I still think this is a natural fit for Nest, but it didn’t happen in 2015. Whiff.

8. A breakout healthcare startup will emerge in the consumer consciousness

Well, does Theranos count? Because, well, I think it does. Not in the way I had expected, but still…give me half credit for this one.

9. A breakout mobile startup will force us to rethink the mobile user interface.

Oh man, we are so so so close here. Overall, my intent with this prediction was to say that in 2015, we’ll finally realize that it’s time to break out of the “apps and home screen” approach to mobile. And I really think that happened. Just so much great work happening here. There’s Google App Streaming, of course. And there’s Wrap. And this widely cited post from Intercom.io on the end of apps as we know them. And much, much more. But again, no one breakout mobile startup that acted as a forcing function. Alas. I’d say half credit here, right on the intent, wrong on the specifics.

10. At least one hotly-anticipated IPO will fizzle, leading many to declare that the “tech correction” has begun.

Ok, pretty much nailed this one.

11. China will falter.

My point here was that China could not keep growing the way it had been, nor would its endless cyber attacks on US and other corporate assets continue to go unnoticed. And in 2015, both were called on the carpet.

12. Adtech comes back.

My final prediction was that adtech would rebound by the end of 2015, after a terrible 2014. And while the public adtech stocks are still battered, I think I got this one right as well. Rubicon, seen as a bellwether in the category, is on an upward trajectory after hitting a low in September. AppNexus is once again looking to go public, and my sources with knowledge of the company say it’s doing quite well. And while I can’t delve into specifics, I’ve never been more bullish about sovrn Holdings, where I am Chair. The company completed an opportunistic financing round in 2015, and is positively killing it going into 2016. Overall, I think the world is going to figure out that adtech is about more than ads – it’s about creating an open, accessible processing and notification layer for the entire Internet. In 2015, adtech was definitely back.

So overall, how’d I do? Well, by my count, I got seven right and two half right, and whiffed on three. Not a bad year, to be honest – 8 of 12, for an average of .750. That’s at the upper end of my predictions, which usually come in between .500 and .750. I guess I’ll try again in a week or so. Till then, thanks for reading in 2015. I plan on writing a lot more in 2016…here, at NewCo, and on Medium and LinkedIn as well.

Have a great New Year, folks. See you in 2016.

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Robert Reich: “Saving Capitalism” From Itself

By - December 27, 2015

Robert B. Reich Photo and Book with Black Border 08042015Robert Reich’s Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few is a readable rant that – should you disagree with Reich’s central premise – will elicit eye-rolls and summary dismissal. But while his well-known political ideology (he served as Secretary of Labor under Clinton) is on constant display, I found Reich’s book both timely and important.

I am drawn to any work that posits a better way forward, and as you might expect, I agree with Reich far more often than not. You have to be willfully ignorant to pretend our current economic system is equitable (Reich argues we’re in the “second Gilded Age“) or capable of creating long-term increasing returns. And while many in our industry cling to libertarian fantasies in which technologic silver bullets solve our every social need, back here on earth we need to do better than pine for the singularity. Fixing income inequality and the loss of the middle class requires hard policy choices and a re-framing of the problems at hand.

Reich’s compact book lays out a strong prescription for what he feels is ailing our capitalist system. Anyone in tech should pay attention: Reich lumps the tech elite right alongside bankers, big pharma, and agribusiness as the new monopolists, and argues that if our capitalist society is to truly prosper, some pretty fundamental changes have to occur in both our economic policy as well as the structure, practices, and purpose of the companies we build.

Most of Reich’s argument turns on this simple premise: The debate between “free markets” and “government intrusion” is a false choice. “The central choice is not between the “free market” and government;” Reich argues, “it is between a market organized for broadly based prosperity and one designed to deliver almost all the gains to a few at the top.”

Reich goes on to deliver example after example of how the rules governing our current capitalist system are rigged to deliver “pre-distributions” of wealth to those in power. From banking to broadband, pharma to agriculture, Reich details subtle market mechanisms that concentrate power and capital into the hands of the “new oligarchs.” Government doesn’t intrude on markets,Reich argues, in fact government creates markets. Citing regulatory and enforcement frameworks for property, monopoly, contract, and bankruptcy law, Reich argues that opposition to government regulation “hides a larger reality: the necessary role of government in designing, organizing, and enforcing the market to begin with.”

The proper role of government, Reich argues, is to insure fairness to all – and today’s capitalist system is anything but fair. Reich traces the role of money in politics, for example, and the disastrous roll back of regulations limiting corporate giving to political campaigns. He shows how corporate lobbying has effectively hamstrung food safety legislation and stifled innovation in our nation’s infrastructure. He details how corporations have successfully lobbied for tax loopholes that allow for massive increases in executive pay.

Reich takes on several sacred American myths along the way. One is the idea that corporations must be run to maximize profit – the almighty “shareholder return.” “The idea that shareholders are a corporation’s only owners, and therefore that the sole purpose of the corporation is to maximize the value of their investments, appears nowhere in the law,” Reich writes. Instead, Reich argues, corporations should balance many constituents – employees, customers, communities impacted by their operations and their products. And in fact, this idea was once quite commonplace in American capitalism, Reich reminds us. Back in the 1950s, Fortune magazine exhorted its readers to act like “industrials statesman” who “regard business management as a stewardship, and … operate the economy as a public trust for the benefit of all the people.”

Reich also skewers the American myth of meritocracy – that we are paid what we are worth. “The notion that you’re paid what you’re “worth” is by now so deeply ingrained in the public consciousness that many who earn very little assume it’s their own fault,” Reich writes. “They feel ashamed of what they see as a personal failure—a lack of brains or a deficiency of character. [But] those who are rich and becoming ever more so are neither smarter nor morally superior to anyone else.”

I have a feeling there are more than a few folks in the Valley who’d disagree with that last statement.

Here are a few more of Reich’s tidbits:

– The $26.7 billion distributed to (recently bailed out) Wall Street bankers in 2013 bonuses would have been enough to more than double the pay of every one of America’s 1,007,000 full-time minimum-wage workers.

– In 2001, the top ten websites accounted for 31 percent of all page views in America, by 2010 the top ten accounted for 75 percent.

– Google and Apple have been spending more money acquiring and litigating over patents than on doing research and development.

– The richest four hundred Americans have more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of Americans put together.

– Fast food and low-wage service jobs are subsidized by public benefits, driving significant profits for large corporations.

Capitalism must be “saved from its own excess,” Reich concludes. “There is simply no way the American economy can be sustained if the richest 10 percent continue to reap all the economic gains while the poorest 90 percent grow poorer; there is no way American democracy can be maintained if the voices of the vast majority continue to be ignored.”

Reich’s prescription includes overturning Citizens United, considering a basic universal income, rethinking our intellectual property, patent, and copyright laws to insure wealth created by innovation ultimately returns to the public domain, and nothing less than the “reinvention of the corporation.”

It’s that last thought that was the true “aha!” for me – it echoed my own thinking about what I’ve come to call the “NewCo narrative” – the story of a new kind of corporation, one driven as much by purpose as profit. I didn’t read “Saving Capitalism” expecting to find affirmation for our nascent movement, but I’ll admit it was satisfying to hear Reich calling for a new approach to corporate philosophy. “We’re likely to see a reversion to a time when many jobs were considered “callings,” expressing a deeply personal commitment rather than simply a means of acquiring money,” Reich writes, arguing that in the end, workers and consumers will be the most effective agents of change in our economy, be it through the ballot box (Reich does raise the specter of a populist third party separate from either Democrats or Republicans), or, more likely, through the formation of new kinds of companies which see themselves as responsible citizens of the world. Hear Hear!

Bring Back the Ozone Hole  

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ozone_still_2000_09_06_lrg

Way back in 1985 an unlikely coalition of world governments, business, and enlightened citizens did something extraordinary: Responding to the findings of leading scientists, they united in decisive action to address a looming and existential global climate threat.

That threat was a dangerous thinning of the Earth’s ozone layer due to society’s use of man-made chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Ozone, it turns out, protects the Earth’s surface from dangerous UVB radiation — which causes skin cancer, cataracts, and all manner of unpleasant ecological chaos.

Invented in the 1920s to power chemical processes that enabled refrigeration and aerosol spray cans, CFCs rapidly accumulated in the Earth’s atmosphere. By 1985, CFCs had effectively blown a massive “ozone hole” over Antarctica. A single scientific paper noted the threat, and subsequent press pickup engendered a “hot crisis” — the public perceived a clear and present danger, and as a result, we demanded a cohesive government response.

The narrative was easy to understand: Ozone protects us from cancer-causing UVB rays, CFCs deplete ozone, so unless we eliminate CFCs, we’re all going to fry.

I was in college in 1985, and I remember how common the ozone hole meme had become. My mother used to call and remind me to wear sunscreen, citing “the hole in the atmosphere” created by narcissists addicted to hair spray. I even remember telling my friends to stop staring into open refrigerators, because taxing the machinery that kept our food cold meant releasing more CFCs in the air. CFCs became an international boogie man, and within two years, world governments had banned them. And instead of denying the existence of the threat, industry found alternatives to CFCs. As of this year — 30 years after the public’s initial awareness of the threat — the ozone hole has effectively closed.

Which of course begs the question: Why can’t we run the same play against our current climate change crisis?

Remember the Ozone Hole? Oh, right, you probably weren’t born yet…

We can’t because for most of us, climate change isn’t personal. We don’t walk outside, feel the warmth of the sun on our skin, and then wonder “Wait…is this going to kill me?”

Climate change lacks a clear villain. Instead, we’re all rather like the frog in the boiling pot — it seems things are getting a bit warmer, but no matter, we’ve got our lives to get on with. We look at photos of smog in China or melting glaciers in faraway places, and we think — yeah, we should probably do something about that.

No galvanizing metaphor elicits public outrage. If scientists had proof that climate change was ripping a cancer-causing hole in our atmosphere, I’d wager we’d be well past debating with climate deniers. But absent that, responding to climate change requires enlightened, long term thinking. And most of us kind of suck at that.

I never thought I’d say it, but I kind of miss the ozone hole.

(cross posted to Medium)

New Post On NewCo.Co: Silicon Valley Won’t Always Be The Center of Entrepreneurship

By - December 18, 2015

Hey Searchblog readers, posting a teaser here of a story I wrote which ran this week on NewCo. We’re doing more and more original reporting and editorial on our site, I invite you to sign up for our daily newsletter, which curates the best stories and insights on the ongoing transformation of business around the world.

The ever-present debate around whether Silicon Valley will retain its crown as the most important tech hub got fresh fuel this past week, first from a piece by Adam Lashinsky (yes, it will), and then from a Financial Times report (sub. required) seemingly refuting his conclusion (no, New York wins!).

The research behind the FT report claims the most entrepreneurial cities in the US are, in order, New York, Boston, Providence, and then San Francisco. The FT headline – “How New York stole Silicon Valley’s crown” – leads one to believe that somehow the research was comparing Apples to Big Apples. Of course, it was doing nothing of the sort. In truth, the FT‘s uncharacteristic clickbait compared Salesforces to sandwich shops.

The Valley is known for tech unicorns, and Lashinsky posits that the Valley will always create proportionally more of them than any other region in the world. The FT story was based on research from the Kauffman foundation tracking an entirely different brand of entrepreneurialism – small businesses. Shame on the FT for the bait-and-switch headline, but maybe there’s a pony inside all of this.

I’ve been developing a theory for more than a decade that technology will one day be understood more as an economic enabler – infrastructure, if you will – and less of a vertical industry centered in a given region. It’s not that tech won’t be important and unique as an industry, but rather that this particular industry creates a set of products which live unburdened by geography. Slack may be a Valley company, but Slack the service is used by tens of thousands of businesses, most of which are not in the Valley.

…My thesis is this: while it’s true that the best place to start a tech platform company such as Google, Apple, Twitter, or Tesla remains the Valley, it’s no longer true that the Valley is the only place to build a tech-leveraged company like BuzzFeed (NY), SilverCar (Austin), or Holaluz (Barcelona).

Read the rest on our site here

 

To get stories like this every day, subscribe to the NewCo Daily.

Innovation Happens Everywhere Now: Barcelona-based Typeform Proves It

By - December 10, 2015

Over on the NewCo site, I’ve profiled Typeform, a Barcelona-based NewCo. Below is a short outtake from that piece, if you’d like to read the entire thing, head on over to NewCo, which is publishing more and more pieces on innovative new kinds of companies around the world. 

 

TypeFormMission

One of the best kinds of NewCos are those that are “hindsight obvious” – at first you don’t get what the big deal is, but after you spend a bit of time grokking the company’s story, it’s undeniable how much better their version of the world is than that which came before.

Such is the case with Typeform, a four-year old startup I came across during NewCo Barcelona earlier this fall. TypeForm’s co-founder and joint CEO David Okuniev spoke at the NewCoBCN kickoff event, and later came to San Francisco to visit our offices. His is a compelling NewCo narrative, the story of a bootstrapped company formed to scratch its founders’ itch, now scaling past 10,000 paying customers – all on the cloud-based SaaS model much beloved by Valley insiders. This narrative is so common in the Valley that what initially struck me about Typeform wasn’t its business model, it was its location. The company feels like a typical San Francisco Internet startup, but when you dig in, it’s unique.

First, the product. Typeform declares its mission in three simple words: “Make forms awesome.” Sounds pretty mundane, right? But once you get Okuniev talking about his company, you realize both how clever and compelling his company’s product really is. Typeform started when Okuniev and his partner Robert Muñoz, both designers, were working with a client who required a friendly user interface for an in-store promotional display. The task involved enticing customers to approach a Macintosh and interact without any prompting. Adding to the challenge and humor of the story, the client was a toilet company – not exactly the kind of product one readily discusses in a public setting. The partners created a friendly platform that elicited responses in a conversational interface, and the core of Typeform was born.

For the rest of the story, head to the NewCo site. 

DavidOkuniev

TypeForm co-founder David Okuniev makes a point at the NewCo offices in San Francisco.

 

To get stories like this everyday, subscribe to the NewCo Daily.
 

 

Tesla-As-A-Platform

By - November 30, 2015

(Cross posted from the NewCo site).

TesloopOfficeNewCoLA

This is the first in what I hope will become a regular series of posts on new kinds of companies the NewCo team has discovered in our travels to NewCo cities around the world. First up is Tesloop, which I noticed while perusing the schedule for NewCo LA last month. I was already planning on seeing Hyperloop Technologies, another Elon Musk-inspired transportation company, but until NewCo LA’s lineup came out, I had no idea Tesloop even existed.

Perhaps the reason lay – quite literally – in the company’s youth. Tesloop was the brainchild of a 15-year old high schooler named Haydn Sonnad, who came up with the idea while contemplating his summer job options earlier this year. He wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of working at a fast food joint, and was fascinated by his father’s new Tesla. Inspired by Musk’s vision of autonomous driving (and the economic value of Tesla’s free supercharging network), Sonnad came up with the idea of running Tesla cars between LA and Vegas – a Tesloop, if you will. It’s a clever hack on Tesla’s core platform: The fuel is free, the cars are sexy and roomy, and when Sonnad (and his dad) ran the numbers, the cost to consumers was compelling – $85 for a one way ride.

As you might imagine, the media loved the story. Tesloop’s been written up in Vice and featured in the local news. Tesloop has raised a little money (using another LA NewCo, CrowdFunder),  and is busy figuring out how to expand to other high-traffic destinations such as San Diego and San Francisco.

What I love about this NewCo is how it leverages Tesla as a platform. If you take fuel costs out of the equation, all of a sudden it becomes economically viable to compete with traditional transportation options of buses, trains, and even airplanes. Plus, the experience itself is arguably far better: you’re riding in a cool new “car of the future,” you have WiFi and your own music the entire way, and you don’t have the hassle of airport security to deal with.

And of course, in a world of driverless cars, upon which Musk (among many others) are certainly betting, even the fixed costs of paying a driver will fade, adding more inventory (the driver’s seat!), lower prices, and higher margins to the business. Such visions have led some enthusiasts to label Tesloop the “railroad of the future.”

TesloopPresoNewCoLATime will tell if Sonnad’s company will scale (and if the novelty of a teenage founder/CEO will be embraced by big name capitalists), but the idea is solid. I missed this year’s Tesloop session, which was held in Sonnad’s family home in Marina Del Ray (the pictures are from my colleague Tim Nordvedt, who did attend). But I’ll be sure to stop by next year. By then, perhaps Sonnad will have gotten his driver’s license, Tesloop will have raised a Series A, and the business might even have a proper office. Then again, it’d be very NewCo to list home cooking (and a swimming pool) as a workplace perk.

Google Unveils App Streaming: Is This The Platform That Unifies Apps And The Web?

By - November 27, 2015

app-stream-w-dotsFor years I’ve been predicting that mobile apps were a fad – there’s no way we’d settle for such a crappy, de-linked, “chiclet-ized” approach to information and services management. Instead, I argued that a new model would emerge, one that combined the open values of a link-powered web with the mobility, sensors, and personalization of apps. It wasn’t easy to make this argument, because for years Apple, Facebook, and even Google were steadily proving me wrong. Apps (and the mobile platforms where they lived) marched steadfastly to dominance, surpassing the PC Web in both attention and most certainly investor buzz. I mean, who’d ever invest in a “website” anymore?!

The PC web, it seems, is well and truly dead, just like everyone says it was.

Then last week, Google announced App Streaming. This is the chocolate meeting the peanut butter, folks. If this can scale, we may finally be close to breaking the app’s stranglehold on our collective imagination.

In case you missed the news, Google App Streaming is a clever, brute force hack that allows native mobile apps to be streamed in real time over Google’s core infrastructure – no app download required (for details, read Danny here). In other words, App Streaming makes apps act like websites – instantly available through a link, even if you’ve never installed the app on your phone.

It’s interesting to note that this isn’t the first time Google has used its massive infrastructure to surmount a seemingly intractable technical challenge. To stand up its original search service, Google successfully put the entire World Wide Web in RAM – creating its own speedy and super-scalable version of what you and I understood to be the Internet.  In essence, to serve us the Web, Google became the Web, along the way creating the fastest growing company in history. It’d be an awful neat hack if Google managed to swallow not just the Web, but also the entire world of apps as well.

I believe that’s exactly what the company is trying to do. This may well be the Web killing apps – something I predicted a year ago.  If so, all I can say is good riddance.

Back in 2004 (11 years ago!), I wrote a Thinking Out Loud post about a fanciful idea I called “Google Business Services.” What if Google became a core platform for the creation of all kinds of new third party services?

What if Google becomes an application server cum platform for business innovation? I mean, a service, a platform service, that any business could build upon? In other words, an ecologic potentiality – “Hey guys, over here at Google Business Services Inc. we’ve got the entire web in RAM and the ability to mirror your data across the web to any location in real time. We’ve got plug in services like search, email, social networking, and commerce clearing, not to mention a shitload of bandwidth and storage, cheap. So…what do you want to build today?”

I was wrong about Google dominating social networking as a service – this was in the pre-Facebook days of Orkut, mind you – but if Google gets its way with App Streaming, Facebook will simply be one more service on the Google platform.

Plenty of questions remain about App Streaming, the most interesting being how it will play with Apple and Facebook. But if you are an app developer, one of your most intractable problems is getting folks past the twin obstacles of download and re-engagement. If Google can prove that App Streaming scales, I can’t imagine any developer who wouldn’t want to take advantage of it.

 

Boulder, the World’s Most Creative City: Where I’ll Be Next Week @NewCo

By - November 11, 2015

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Boulder is the world’s most creative city, according to a recent study highlighted in Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class – Revisted, so it makes perfect sense that NewCo Boulder has a plethora of extraordinary companies to visit during NewCo Boulder, coming to town November 18-19.

Boulder is also home to sovrn Holdings, a company I chair (it was spun out of Federated Media last year), so I get to visit regularly – and that’s quite a treat. It’s the home of well known VCs Foundry Group, TechStars, and as you might expect, no shortage of creative cannabis startups.

Choosing is never easy, but here’s where I’ll be during NewCo Boulder:

Wednesday, Nov. 18th

5.00 pm – VIP Kickoff Dinner – Esprit Entrepreneur Awards This year our partners in Boulder are teaming up with the Boulder Chamber to both kick off NewCo and celebrate Boulder’s top innovators. It promises to be a great event!

Thursday, Nov. 19th

8.30 am – Zeal – Food for Enthusiasts. One of the most exciting categories in all NewCo cities is food – and I’m looking forward to hearing about this startups journey to “stability,” as the session description puts it. It’s an early start (they don’t waste daylight in Boulder!), so I’m hoping for some good coffee too! Wish I could have gone: SomaLogic, Google, Foundry Group. 

10.00 am – TechStars. One of the best known names in incubator/accelerators, TechStars is also a major player in the event space, and I’m eager to learn more about their plans to grow beyond their already impressive reach around the world. Wish I could have gone: IdeaForge, Made In Nature, Boulder Public Library. 

11.30 amCanopyBoulder. “The most active investor in the cannabis business.” Enough said, I’m fascinated by the legalization story unfolding in Colorado and elsewhere, and am an investor in the industry myself. So I’ll be looking to learn even more during this session. Wish I could have gone: Rapt, eTown, BlackSquare

1.00 pm – Waste to Energy Partners.  The Colorado “breakout cleantech company of the year” sounds fascinating, and is attacking a huge problem/opportunity in the sustainability ecosystem. Wish I could have gone: Watson University, Pivotal Labs, Surna. 

2.30 pm – Sanitas Brewery. Who doesn’t need a beer at this point in a long NewCo day? This artisanal brewery will include a behind-the-scenes tour and tasting. Yum! Wish I could have gone: Blow Things Up Lab, FlyteDesk, madelife. 

4.00 pm – sovrn. Of course I’ll be at sovrn! sovrn has been a leader in adtech for years, and I’m so proud of the core mission the business holds at its center: To help publishers level the playing field with data. Wish I could have gone: Drizly, Human Design, Anthem

5.30 pm –  After a very full day, it’ll be time for a drink and conversation with my fellow NewCo festival goers. See you there!

Register for NewCo Boulder here!

 

(cross-posted from NewCo site)

Written First On Medium. Discuss.

By - October 26, 2015
Couple Holding Hands at Sea Sunset

Image Credit Arch Cape Inn

So I had a thought about the state of the publishing world, specifically that part of it that we’d call blogging(1). And it struck me.

Why haven’t we made our own Medium? No, wait, that doesn’t quite sound right. Medium is awesome, and in fact I am writing this post in (on?!) Medium. Historical note: This may well be the first time I’ve written the first draft of a post in Medium. So my beef isn’t with Medium, rather, it’s with the blogging ecosystem’s inability to create something that embraces what Medium teaches us.

It’s not like the pieces weren’t (aren’t?) there. Thousands of superb writers — tellers of tales, diviners of insight, entertainers, jesters, fools (who can stillwrite). And it’s not for lack of code — we’ve got a fucking army working on that. Perhaps — is it a lack of common vision? Did we need Medium to Show Us The Way?

As others have pointed out, Medium is simply awesome, but it hasn’t embraced several ideas core to the culture of blogging. For example, most authors don’t have control of their own domain, though you can now create a “vanity” domain, a commendable move to be sure. However, if you want to add anything to your site — you know, put some lights on the porch, maybe add a bathroom to the place — that’s not going to happen. Yet.

Similarly, an author can’t easily add advertising — or any other third party code that is prevalent in the open web, though Ev told me a few weeks agothey are working on the advertising solution in earnest. Again, a good thing. But most likely, it’ll be a controlled, platform approach with limited APIs. And if I were running Medium, I’d do exactly the same thing, so again, my beef is not with Medium.

But what if blogging evolved more rapidly — or perhaps, in a more focused way? I mean, shouldn’t this aggregated highlight feature be all over the blogosphere? Or this kind of commenting? Sure, I can install plugins that approximate the same thing, but…they are not universally used, they don’t share a common social behavior. (Not to mention, installing this shit is a huge PITA).

Imagine if we had that highlights feature as standard issue over in the blogosphere? I mean, we had comments as standard issue … why not this? Lordy, how cool would that be? Knowing us, we’d turn it into currency driving a magical gift economy, the kind we had back when this all started. It’s that magic that drove blogging’s emergence — and we’ve lost it along the way. I don’t blame social networks or Medium or Apple for this. I think we’ve failed to imagine another way.

We stood by and watched our beloved trackbacks — those deeply meaningful handshakes from one mind to another — deprecate and eventually disappear from our sites(2). And then we let the comments fade — too many trolls, at first, and that fucking spam…it was too much work. Platforms emerged to address the worst of it, but with those platforms came their imperative — we’ve got to make a business of this. If you guys aren’t going to do it, we’ll do it for you, OK? The deal was clear: This is free for you to use, but we’re going to ferry wheelbarrows of data out in return. OK?

Turns out, those wheelbarrows of data were rolling off our sites with every javascripted pixel we dropped onto our site. Sharing buttons? Check. Ads?Checkmate!(3)

OK. And then the comments went away. Once again, I do not blame the data vacuumers, the marketing ecosystem, the struggling independent publisher just using the best tools available to them at the time. Nope. I bemoan our collective imagination.

And Google noticed the spam and deprecation of true intent, and Google began to send attention other places, increasingly (and again, defensibly) to their own shit. But that’s another post, one I am sure I wrote years ago (but can’t quite find since I’m not in the WordPress backend. A bit of micro meta, that.)

So trackbacks went away, then comments, and then…we lost the culture of response(4). When this all got started, someone would write a superlative post, perhaps a controversial post, and then as if on cue, a few thoughtful responses would emerge, a volley might ensue, and behold: a living debate in considered prose watched by thousands. But the mechanism supporting that intellectual sport — that first synapse-jumping trackback, the resulting attention and commentary — collapsed, and with it went the flower that was a new kind of public debate.

And sure, we’ve rebuilt parts of the things we’ve lost, in Twitter, via Facebook, in flashes of reddit brilliance, with blogging pillars yet lost(5)…and now and most promisingly with Medium. But damn, it doesn’t quite feel right yet, does it?

I’m a big fan of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup — take your chocolate, pour it over my peanut butter, and — yes please, may I have another?

So I guess I’m asking that someone toss the wooly peanut buttery world of WordPress and the damn-near-perfect yet somewhat-lacking-in-connective-tissue chocolate world of Medium into a Blendtec Stealth and give us that sweet and savory goodness we so badly crave? Pretty please?(6)

— –

(Thanks to Barcelona for this rant)

(1) Yes, we all can pause for the obligatory and derisory images of a dated epoch now muddling through its senescence. There, now let’s continue. (2) I mean, WTF? The first Google response for “trackback” is the Wikipedia page?! (3) Yes, I am fully aware of my own role in this part of the story. For the record, I’m a huge fan of marketing as part of the ecosystem. Duh. But the strengths of the open web are also its weaknesses. I am arguing we’ve forgotten to tend to the strengths. (4) I read several really good related pieces— on Medium! —  which informed my thinking here, and this post is in essence a response to them. But I can’t fucking find them, and I can’t figure out how to see what I’ve read on Medium or even what I’ve recommended. I am sure it’s in here, I just can’t find it. (5)Hell, even in a search for “AVC,” Fred’s site comes in third to Twitter and Antelope Valley College now.

(6)OK, now I have to cross post this to Searchblog. Weird.

Maker, Soylent, Hyperloop, USC: The Places I’ll Visit In LA Next Month

By - October 22, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 12.20.19 AM

(cross posted from NewCo)

Picking a schedule for a NewCo festival is an art – it takes a lot more time and thought than your average event. But it’s also fun – each session and company description has been highly curated, and I learn a lot simply by reading through the diversity of experiences that are on offer.

This year in LA there are 80+ companies to chose from. The festival runs over two days – the afternoon of Monday Nov 9th through the evening of Tuesday Nov. 10th. It wasn’t easy, but here’s where I’ll be visiting:

Monday, Nov. 9th

1.30 pmMaker Studios. Video is the hottest medium on the Internet, and the model keeps evolving, as the recent YouTube Red news illustrates. Maker is one of the most successful of the original “MCNs” and has grown past its YouTube roots into a powerhouse in all things video. I want to get behind the scenes and learn about video because NewCo will be launching video channels next year, along with its media business. I also want to see the Culver City neighborhood where Maker has its HQ – it’s home to an abundance of LA’s best entertainment startups. Wish I could go: Cross Campus, MomentFeed, Inspire Energy.

3.00 pmHired. Another selfish business reason here: I’m very interested in the recruitment field, both because NewCo is growing, but also because I sense opportunities for what we’re building as well. Hired has been on a tear lately and has a lot of buzz. I’m looking forward to seeing how the sausage is made. Wish I could go: Tradesy, Omaze, Google.

4.30 pm – USC Institute for Creative Technologies. Who knew Oculus Rift came from the lab we’ll be touring during this session? Very cool. Also, my daughter is looking at USC for college (kills me, I went to Cal…) and this is a chance to check out an innovative program at the school. Wish I could go: Factual, Homeboy Industries, NOVICA.

6.00 pm – VIP Kickoff & Reception at Dollar Shave Club Dollar Shave Club Dollar’s headquarters are really cool, and the program – featuring Dollar Shave CEO Michael Dubin and a host of other NewCo CEOs.

Tuesday, Nov. 10th

9.30 am – Hyperloop Technologies If these guys pull off what they are talking about doing, well, it’ll radically redefine long haul transportation. I want to be able to say I was there back when it was just an idea. Plus, I’ll get to meet the CEO and grok the tech behind it. Wish I could go: The LA River Revitalization Corporation, Oblong Industries, dSky.

11.00 am – Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti One of the things I love about NewCo is how the municipal governments get involved, both at the VIP kickoff and by opening their doors and talking about civic innovation. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s new at LA’s city hall.  Wish I could go: Psychic Bunny, CBRE, FEM, Inc. 

1.30 pm – Soylent. This food-replacement drink has been the subject of much derision and celebration. But it’s certainly pushing the envelope of how we think about nutrition and the role of food in society. Wish I could go:  Science, Inc., Funny or Die, Upfront Ventures.

3.00 pm – Surf Air. Another new approach to transportation – one that promises to rethink how we do shorter haul flights. We’ll get to board and tour their airplanes as well! Wish I could go: Parachute, Expert DOJO, VNTANA (another Manatt pick).

4.30 pmFlightly. I’ll admit, Flightly’s location helped me chose it (bc it’s near the meetup afterwards, and traffic is rough in LA in the afternoon!). Then again, I’ve wondered about the company ever since it was announced as Twitter’s only e-commerce integration. I’ve long thought Twitter had a huge e-commerce business lurking inside of it – and now’s my chance to hear about it from the source. Wish I could go: WeWork, onefinestay, Crowdfunder.

6.00 pm – Meetup at Boingo Wireless Boingo Wireless After seeing a dozen companies, it’ll be time for a drink and conversation with my fellow NewCo festival goers. See you there!

Register for NewCo LA here!