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Year: 2013

7/23/13

7/23/13

Good morning, All,

We all go to meetings all over town, all the time. It’s exhausting, to be sure, and invariably, upon arrival, we’re asked if we’d like a beverage: coffee, tea, water, soda. Since many a meetings are morning meetings, and since this is New York, one of the undisputed caffeine capitals of the world, and since we work in tech, where caffeine is de rigueur, many of us request coffee and some of us like it white. Or beige, to be precise.

When did a staple like whole milk hit the no fly list? We went to at least half a dozen meetings this past week where we were offered coffee with our choice of almond, soy, hemp, fat free, 2% fat or skim milk, or half and half or fat free half and half. Read More...

8/20/13

8/20/13

Good morning, All,

Here’s the link to RSVP to our event this evening, and hope to see you there. It starts at 6 pm, open bar for the first hour, and we will be packing truffles.

Last week Elon Musk unveiled his plans for the Hyperloop, a transport that can potentially carry passengers from LA to SF in 30 minutes, traveling at just under the speed of sound. It’s expected to cost $6 billion – a pittance next to the $70 billion the state is paying to build a “high speed” rail system along the coastal corridor that will make the trip in three hours and isn’t expected to be finished until 2029. For the record, China’s Shangai Maglev Train could make that trip in just under an hour and 20 minutes. Musk says that the Hyperlink can be up and running by 2020. Of course, he’s a bit busy running Tesla Motors and Space X, so he does need someone to run the project. Read More...

7/16/13

7/16/13

Good morning, All,

We attended yet another pitching event recently. Five companies pitching to a handful of investors, many of whom we knew. One of the companies blew us away. Smart cofounders targeting a space that’s certainly heating up. A bit crowded, but no clear winner yet. They’re  taking a unique approach and have good and growing traction in their market. It’s a potential winner. We spoke to one of the investors – one whom we’ve known for quite a while – afterwards who asked us if any of the companies impressed us. We mentioned the one team and while he liked the technology/approach, he was not going to invest. Why? Inexperienced team. They were not twenty-somethings; both cofounders did have a background in their space. What he meant was that this was their first foray into entrepreneurship/they weren’t successful serial entrepreneurs.

We were not the only one in the room who realized the potential of this team and their technology. They were besieged afterwards by people who worked for companies that could be potential partners; people who knew people who worked for companies that could be potential partners; and people who knew investors who invest in their space, and who offered to make introductions. Read More...

7/9/13

7/9/13

Good morning, All,

It’s the height of summer. Investors are out at their summer homes. Things have quieted down. We know that startups never rest, so what’s an entrepreneur to do, when sitting it out until September is just not an option? Here are some suggestions:

1.     Work on your deck. We know you’re sick of it and can recite it backwards and forwards. Test it on friends. Find an industry sounding board and get his/her feedback. He/she might know something or see something that you might have missed/never realized that your product/service addressed. Read More...

6/25/13

6/25/13

Good morning, All,

In our industry, pivoting is not only perceived as a positive: it’s often seen as a necessity, if the plan is to innovate and grow. Boxee started out as a software company and pivoted into a set-top box developer (Boxee Box) that would allow anyone to stream media from their television or computer, and which would play practically any format. It was non-techie friendly – very important : you could watch a friend’s ripped DVD’s via a USB drive, or watch the streaming services, like Netflix, Spotify, et al. Then they pivoted again into Boxee TV / Cloud DVR storage service, and basically followed in the footsteps of all of the major cable providers. In other words, they stopped innovating and started copying off their neighbor’s papers. Never a good idea: they lost a lot of their audience – and their mojo. Consequently, they couldn’t raise their next round, and since they had put themselves squarely into competition with a number of companies for whom they might have been a potential acquisition, well, those doors were pretty much closed to them, too. Someone did acquire Boxee. At the time of this writing, buyer unknown; details undisclosed. Moral of the story: If you’re going to pivot, innovate: develop something that a potential buyer might want, not what they already have. Pivot if you must, but be careful not to paint yourself into a boxee. Onward and forward.

Housekeeping: Read More...

6/18/13

6/18/13

Good morning, All,

We’ve mentioned the importance of mentors before. FastCo just came out with an excellent piece on the subject. We recently attended an event where we were asked to critique a handful of startups that were pitching. They were early stage. Most had co-founders; a few did not, and there was a distinct difference between the two, so without further ado, our list of reasons why it’s important to have a co-founder:

Having a sounding board – You don’t know everything, and not everything you think is right for the company/product, is. Good to have feedback and another opinion - from a partner. Employees are not the same. They’re getting their marching orders (and paycheck) from the top – you – so it’s just not the same as a bouncing ideas off from someone with as much skin in the game as you. Read More...

6/11/13

6/11/13

Good morning, All,

Last week, our friend Murat Aktihanaglu was watching television, trying to find news about the protests in his native Turkey. It was nowhere to be found on the major news outlets. He found it on a grassroots station. And on twitter. CNN Turkey was airing a documentary on penguins. Seriously? Unable to sit by passively and despite the fact that he’s anything but political, he was motivated to act because people were getting hurt: They were being gassed and hit by water cannons. He crowdsourced advice (via twitter and facebook) and within an hour of finding that grassroots station, he’d launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money to take out a full page ad in The New York Times. Donations started pouring in from at least 50 countries, across six continents at the rate of $2,561 an hour. It was one of the fastest-growing campaigns in the platform’s history. By 11 the next morning, enough money was raised to pay for the ad – and then some. That’s when the press started paying attention: not because of the cause, but because of the virality of his campaign. Murat shifted the spotlight back to where it belonged: on the events transpiring in Turkey. We covered the story in AlleyWatch. The media wanted to make it about Arab Spring. Despite the fact that the Turkish population is heavily Muslim, it isn't about Arab Spring: Turkey is a democracy and has been for a very long time. It’s about a government out of control and a free people fighting for their rights because they are only too aware of the fact that once you lose those rights, they’re very, very difficult to get back.

Attention must also be paid to what is happening closer to home: Namely, abuse of power on a massive scale: U.S., British intelligence mining data from nine U.S. Internet companies in broad secret program Justice Department Fights Release of Secret Court Opinion Finding Unconstitutional Surveillance There’s a coup taking place. Our privacy is being decimated. We are seeing the erosion of our civil liberties in the name of safety, by the same government that ignored intelligence that might have prevented the Boston Marathon bombings. The talking points are doublespeak, and coming from both sides of the aisle. We have a government that’s gone rogue, enabled by technology and their abuse of power, and operating outside of the system and the laws that they swore to uphold. In the words of Baudelaire: The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist. Onward and forward, but with both eyes open. Read More...

6/4/13

6/4/13

Good morning, All,

Since taking on the position as Editor in Chief at AlleyWatch, we’ve gotten any number of press releases in any given week. Same when we were in the music business. Press releases are fairly boilerplate. Which means that they becomes white noise. Which is why most press releases, especially from new/unknowns are routine and summarily ignored.

How many versions of your deck/executive summary/talking points have you written? The point is to capture the attention of the investor, hopefully in the first sentence and essentially in the first slide or two. Essentially, for you, or you’ve pretty much lost them. Newsflash: the same holds true for your press release. Don’t tell us how excited you are to have INSERT NAME HERE on as WHO CARES? Tell me a story. In other words, pretty much write the press release as if you are writing the article itself. Not that reporters are lazy: just that if you tell a good story, and a compelling one, you are much more like to get their attention/intrigue them to follow up with you and maybe even give you a bit of press. We realize that press releases have been written a certain way since time in memoriam. That doesn’t mean that it works and if you’re going that route, you’d better have a great PR firm behind you, in which case, they’d have written the press release themselves and that doesn’t mean you have to accept the status quo and sign off on it: if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten. You need an angle. If you don’t have an angle – that thing that differentiates you as having something besides just another company launch announcement – you don’t have a story. Not one that’s likely to be readily picked up, anyway. Read More...

5/28/13

5/28/13

Good morning, All,

Yahoo’s back and Marissa Mayer seems for all intents and purposes to be on a buying spree. Last week it was Tumblr and now they’ve thrown their hat in the ring to acquire Hulu. They supposedly bought Tumblr to attract a younger audience, and it is highly unlikely that they took the time to view this infographic before they dropped $1.1 billion to close the deal. Yeah, right. At last week’s CM Summit, Yahoo CMO Kathy Savitt reminded us of something that we had forgotten: that it was Yahoo that first made the web a daily habit. All of those websites out there and there was no way to find them, unless you knew the URL. Yahoo was a game changer. When they went public, they went on a buying spree and tried to be all things to all people: broadcast.com, geocities, to name two. They missed out on eBay and tried to build their own. Remember Yahoo auctions? Didn’t think so. They cast too wide a net too early on and it was unmanageable. The field was wide open and enter Google (which Yahoo passed on, just for the record). As for Yahoo’s acquisitions, closed and pending, let’s not forget that besides search, Yahoo is and always was a content company. Content and search were always Yahoo’s core competencies, and they seem to be returning to those roots that first made them successful. This time, with an eye to the future: native advertising (Ok, we know that contextual advertising has been around for a while and that only the name has been changed to deceive the clueless, much as the cloud is networked computing by any other name: gotta love the marketing department, and see what a little strategic marketing can do? A ‘new’ category is born.’ Take heed). But Mayer needs to give Tumblr time to continue to build their audience, and focus on long-term goals rather than short-term mandates.

Google started on a different path: Remember ‘Don’t Be Evil?’ (Google's Broken Promise: The End of "Don't Be Evil") That went down the same rabbit hole as did their privacy policy, monitoring your every keystroke while you’re on any and every google product, all in the name of giving you a better online experience, and never mind that they’re facing yet another anti-trust probe over their display ads. Speaking of the old days, head’s up, Google: push technologies didn’t work. Read More...

5/21/13

5/21/13

Good morning, All,

When you’re starting a company, everyone tells you what to do – put together a deck, talk to customers, talk to investors. We’ve seen the lists ad nauseam, but what about a list of what not to do?

1. Produce a product or technology that no one wants. It’s called ‘buy-in’ because the idea is to get people to buy. 2. Not have a revenue model from Day One. You might not implement it immediate – but it better be there. 3. Spend all of your time fundraising and not enough time on developing your product 4. Build a pitch instead of a business 5. Listen to investors, chapter and verse. We all go to pitch panels and get investor feedback. Question: how many times have you attended one such event, heard an investor sing the praises of the company - and witness him/her write a check, or heard that they wrote a check not long afterwards? Thought so. 6. Not listen to investors. Some do know what they’re talking about. We know both of them. 7. Think that sales and marketing are not as important as product development. Every chair needs at least three legs to support it. 8. Lack the determination and resolve to realize your dreams. 9. Start a company for the wrong reasons – your product is cool, but is it compelling? And are you the one to do it? Know your strengths and limitations. 10. Give up too easily: of course it’s hard to do – if it were easy, everyone would do it 11. Not have a clear message or product. We go to a lot of pitching events. Half the time, we’re not sure what the company is about – and neither are the investors. Do one thing and do it well. And be able to describe it. 12. Have a grabber. Example: BMW – the Ultimate Driving Machine. FedEx: When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight. Clear. Simple. Effective. Multibillion dollar company – and they got there almost overnight. Be memorable. Read More...

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