The ONLY 4 reasons to get an MBA

Before starting my own company, I thought very seriously about getting an MBA. Over the past three and a half years, I’ve gone from being pretty sure I would get one, to being pretty sure I won’t. What changed were my goals, situation, and skills, not my perception on the reasons to get an MBA.  
Over the past week I’ve come across two interesting blog posts on the question of whether to get an MBA. One is a post by Steve Blank that talks about the MBA as an entrepreneurial finishing school, and the other is a TechCrunch article about whether an MBA is a plus or minus in the startup world.  Both are interesting reads (and also both interestingly mention the Master in Engineering Management as an alternative to the MBA, which is a degree I do have).  
So here are the four reasons (the only four reasons) I feel anyone should get an MBA. 

1 – To Build a Strong(er) Network

In many people’s eyes, this is the biggest (and sometimes only) benefit of getting an MBA. I tend to agree. A solid network is extremely valuable in any business, be it a startup, a consulting firm, or a large corporation. However it’s also important to remember that the quality of the network is directly proportional to the quality of the school, the jobs the graduates take, and the long term prospects of classmates.

2 – To Change Career

If you’re stuck in a career that you don’t want to be in, and it has a traditional stigma that makes it difficult to easily change careers, then spending 2 years studying general business, meeting new people, and spending a lot of time learning about new industries can be a great way to get out of a rut.  For me personally, this was a very compelling reason after my initial start in the automotive industry, which was remedied by a move into strategy consulting then tech entrepreneurship.

3 – To Learn a NEW and Complementary Skill (that you want to use down the road)

An MBA can in face teach new skills, whether they are corporate finance, business organization, micro and macro economics, accounting, etc.  For people that have studied or have been working in fields that are not very business related (e.g. teaching, research, arts), then these skills are very new, and often challenging.  But it’s important that there is at least an initial plan to use these skills in a meaningful way.  Maybe you’re a high school teacher that wants to start a business.  
Many people who get MBAs are already fairly strong in the subject matter (i.e. business undergrads, strategy and management consultants, i-bankers), and thus the MBA degree has a perception of being relatively easy from a content perspective. This isn’t the case if all of the material is new to you.  It’s like learning a foreign language if you had been speaking it at home. 

4 – If it’s required for your desired career path

In some industries, an MBA is essentially a requirement to keep moving up, for example i-banking, consulting, or Fortune 500 high level executive.  In that case, if that’s the career path you really want, then you don’t have much choice. The good news is that in many of these industries, companies will either pay for or re-pay the cost of the MBA, so it helps soften the financial blow.
If you’re thinking of getting one for any other reason, think hard about it.
I’ll write a follow up post about alternatives to getting an MBA, depending on your goals.

Guest Post on Boston’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

I posted a guest post on PopSignal about my thoughts on the recent surge in Boston’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. 
In the first part, I tried to capture my observations about what has been changing in the local tech scene, such as better networking groups and events, additional early stage funding options, and more support infrastructure.  In the second part, I wrote about the key drivers for these recent changes, which I think are all contributing strongly to the improvement of the Boston ecosystem. 

HP Acquires Palm – Well Done

I’m excited to see that HP has made a move to acquire Palm.  As I wrote before, Palm has created a solid mobile OS, and someone needed to buy that to keep it going and continue to put pressure on iPhone and Android.  

It’s a great move for HP to become relevant again in the mobile space, which they haven’t done since the poor iPaq line of PDAs.  It also makes sense because HP has been pushing hard to put touch into their desktop computers and even their printers, and the WebOS is a much stronger and nicer looking foundation for all of those efforts. 

HP stepped up to the plate, where HTC backed down because of their Android relationships, and Nokia didn’t even consider it because they are still busy putting out shitty Symbian phones.  

So who will end up buying Palm

Just 2 weeks ago I wrote about how somebody needed to buy Palm, and lo and behold, now the company is putting itself up for sale.  

When I wrote, Palm was trading at 3.76, and I noticed a great buying opportunity.  Too bad I didn’t actually move to buy any stock, it’s almost doubled in just 2 weeks.  Ahhh, hindsight.  

Well, despite my frustration in not acting on what was a clear opportunity, I’m still hopeful for the industry that someone will pick up Palm and create a solid competitor for Android and iPhone.  
I’ve been writing a lot about technology recently, but promise some general life posts coming soon. 

iPad Opportunities – Clipboard Replacement

As I continue to organize thoughts around some general motivational posts, I’m still fascinated by technology and recently the iPad, the newest addition to my tech library. 

A lot has been written about the iPad, including a recent article about how iPad is computing’s middle ground, which got me thinking.  The author references an analogy of coaches using the iPad on the sideline, so I started thinking about what are other uses of the physical clipboard that the iPad could replace:

  • Coaches – even professional coaches use clipboards, often the mini-whiteboards with an outline of the field, imagine a simple app that you could draw plays on and pull up “template” plays to then expound on.  
  • Inventory Management – anything in a warehouse where people are on the go, but need to check back on orders and current stock levels.
  • Hospitals – A no-bariner, people are writing about the benefits for nurses and other healthcare professionals.
  • Club VIP Lists – Real time updated and easier to manage than the current print-out list with a checklist
  • Wedding Planner – We’ve all seen these, frantically checking off stuff and planning to make sure things go off smoothly.
  • Construction Management – Especially on-site, lots going on
I’d be really interested in seeing some quick studies about how and where clipboards are sold and used.  I’m sure Staples is sitting on a goldmine of data that would be really interesting for future iPad developers. 

Can you think of other clipboard uses that could be replaced by an iPad?

Why is it so hard to create something new?

I last wrote about how somebody needs to buy Palm because they created an impressive and independent smartphone OS, and that can anchor their future smartphone strategy.  
That also got me thinking about why it’s so difficult to create something new and innovative.  

If you think the idea of there being nothing new is new, think again.  Back in 1889, Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the US Patent and Trademark office remarked: 
“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
While the quote itself may be disputed, it’s not hard to imagine someone at the time thinking we had figured everything out.  
Before the iPhone, handset makers were stuck with perceived constraints.  Constraints on how much people would pay, how much a device cost to make, existing technology, existing input mechanisms, existing software platforms, existing bandwidth constraints.  

Existing everything made anything new impossible.
When the iPhone launched in 2007, it completely changed the entire paradigm for smartphones. They weren’t even smartphones any more, really just mobile computers.  They snuck up on everyone and turned the industry upside down.  

Now we’re stuck in a new (better) paradigm, but still stuck.  Palm’s WebOS, Google’s Android, Windows Mobile 7 are all flavors of the paradigm that Apple created with the iPhone. 
The one counter example that I have seen is 10/GUI.  More on that later, in the meantime, enjoy this amazing video:

Somebody Please Buy Palm (cough, cough Nokia)

The Dawn of Smartphones (the iPhone)
Throughout all of this smartphone revolution of the past 3 years (starting with the iPhone, as smartphone before then were just pretenders), it has been interesting to see the battleground.  Once might players like Microsoft and Palm were relegated to the bench as new players emerged (Apple), and evolved (RIM).  
Palm creates an impressive smartphone OS
The only independent handset maker that has done an impressive job creating a new smartphone OS is Palm.  For all of their speed issues, the WebOS they created is visually elegant, easy to use, and cohesive, things you can’t say about any of Nokia’s Symbian phones. 

A year and a half ago I wrote about how RIM is the next Palm, about how RIM was over-hyped and due for the same fall that Palm faced a decade ago.  Now RIM is trading about about a third of what it was then, and it’s clear they have an uphill battle.  But for all of Palm’s faults and original fall from grace, they have done an amazing job on the platform, creating an enviable operating system and a solid initial portfolio of phones.  
A buying opportunity
But their stock has taken a beating, largely due to execution and market share issues.  They are currently trading at 3.76, for a market cap of $634M.  That is a pittance, close to a 7-year low (not far from the 2008 world meltdown low):

At that price, it would be a steal for a large company looking to re-establish their own brand and independence (away from the hegemony that Android could easily become).  
Who should buy Palm?
Nokia is the buyer with most to gain.  Their smartphone efforts have been dismal, stuck in their past.  Symbian is a terrible foundation for a next generation platform, and they should jettison that and start from scratch.  They also have the most to gain because of their market share and distribution channels.  And they need something drastic or they risk becoming irrelevant in the next generation of phones.

Let’s be honest
But realistically, Nokia will never buy Palm, they are too proud.  Hubris.  Even if they don’t, there are a host of others who would benefit greatly, including Motorola (hampered by their own success with the RAZR), Sony/Ericsson (hampered with their silly joint venture that prevents more Sony technology), and HTC (drying desperately to create their own brand under Android).
You can be the guys at Elevation Partners will be pushing like hell to make Palm work, given that it can make or break their current fund.  I hope they find a buyer for Palm and keep more independent smartphone makers out there.

Why don’t people care about important issues?

It’s March Madness right now, which is dominating the mainstream news as well as people’s mindshare.  It’s overshadowing massively important issues like the biggest health care reform since Medicare and two costly and important wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And that got me thinking about why people don’t care about important issues.
Patrick Kennedy had a well outlined rational about his issues with our policy in Afghanistan.

Whether you agree or not, at least he’s challenging the issues.  He then goes on an outburst against the national press (you should watch the whole thing, but if you need to skip to the outburst it’s at 3:22).  He concludes that “the national press core is not covering the most signifiant issue of national importance.”

I agree with his outburst and conclusion, but it’s more than the press.  The press is responding to what people care about.  People don’t CARE about the war in Afghanistan.  You don’t have to go much further than that YouTube page to see what I mean.  That speech has thousands of views, not the tens or hundreds of thousands of views that sports highlights or titillating dance videos get. 
We’ve gone down this path before, with a lazy, patriotically-blinded press that let the American people believe we were going to war with Iraq because of their involvement 9/11.

But for the same reason that you can’t implement environmental policy without impacting the underlying economics, we can’t force people to watch C-SPAN and read war articles.  Somehow we have to make important issues more relevant to people, more interesting.  
I’m not sure how we do that, but if we don’t figure it out, our democracy won’t work. 

Email – the original killer app and still a loyal dog

Email was the first killer app of the Internet age.  It is the single most commonly used online application (slightly edging out Search). It is the center of most people’s work and social lives. Yet it is continually under-appreciated, and out-shined by new applications from Facebook to Twitter to dedicated Web 2.0 apps. But it remains with us like a loyal dog.  This post is to email’s defense, how it can be the center of a workflow, and some cool new uses built on email.
I wrote a few days ago about how productivity is a corner stone of an ambitious life.  As a follow up, I thought I’d add some detail on my own workflow.  A lot of my workflow is centered around email.  I spend more time in Mac Mail application than any other single application.  I use it for quick notes (though Evernote is rapidly gaining on my note taking), for drafting blog posts, for staying in touch, for answering support emails for YouCastr, etc.  So it’s naturally evolved as my all purpose workflow. 

Inbox 47,000+
I don’t believe in Inbox Zero.  It’s a waste of time, and isn’t necessary.  My somewhat GTD inspired workflow makes sure that I have Inbox-Unread-Zero, but that once it’s read, things are fine.  With Mac Mail, I can search through the 47,000 emails I have in my inbox and be just a few seconds from getting what I need.  My Inbox essentially serves as my filing system. 
I use my Draft Replies as my workflow.  If I get an email that needs a response or action, I start drafting a reply. Even if the action is not just an email, it will most likely warrant an email anyway (letting someone know it’s done). So with a quick Command-R and save, I have a todo automatically created with the appropriate detail, and it’s automatically saved (with Gmail IMAP).  

Bringing functionality back to email
A couple of companies are now leveraging email as a natural hub for general use.  This makes sense, everyone knows how to use email, and it’s so pervasive in everyday use.  It helps lower the barrier to start using a product, and keeps people coming back because it’s one of the activities people already do all the time.
Posterous
Posterous has created the simplest blogging platform out there.  All you need to do is send an email to post@posterous.com and you’re done. It’s great.  When they launched about 2 years ago, who would have thought we needed a new blogging platform? With plenty of custom, open source, and micro-blogging sites out there. 

Followup.cc
Another great up and coming app is Followup.cc, the brainchild of a good friend Chris Keller.  Followup.cc lets you set reminders right from your email, by cc’ing an email with the desired reminder time. For example, you could email a potential client, then cc “2w@followup.cc” and it will send you a reminder email in 2 weeks with that email thread.  It’s brain-dead simple, you don’t have to sign up and manage something, you don’t need to open and login to something. It’s there when you need it, and using it is intuitive and takes about 5 seconds per email.  Hopefully Chris starts marketing the service more aggressively so more people start using it. I’m excited to start using it more in my email-based workflow.
The Social Inbox
I think a current and hopefully continuing innovation is to leverage the Inbox for social communication.  I like with Xobni is doing with the social integration (though unfortunately only with Outlook). Even stodgy Microsoft is getting into the fray with Outlook Social Connector (though it’s been called a poor man’s Xobni and has issues with LinkedIn contact synchronization). I’m really hoping Apple starts adding some social integration to the Mail application for both the desktop, iPhone and upcoming iPad versions.  I’d love to be able to view and respond to Facebook or LinkedIn messages right from my centralized messaging application.  

We’ll see how things progress, but I’m betting that email is not going away for a while, but will continue to get more powerful, more integrated with other communications mediums, more social, and more productive.

Productivity is a corner stone of an ambitious life

There are several key traits to live an ambitious life.  One of them is productivity.
You need to DO a lot to ACCOMPLISH a lot.  You can’t accomplish a lot without being productive.  You can’t be productive without being organized and disciplined.  

There are many productivity ideas out there, from the formal and established Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology to a number of individually crafted routines and workflows.  Everyone has opinions on productivity, with entire blogs dedicated to them, including 43Folders, to well known entrepreneurs like Mark Suster, and Marc Andreesen.  Read a few thoughts, then pick the one you like best (like recipes).
It doesn’t matter which one you use, but it’s important to have a workflow to keep your short, medium and long term goals moving along, or you’ll never reach any of them.  Don’t get caught up in finding the perfect application or methodology, just get started with something.

As for my own workflow, I tend to have a very email-centric workflow. I’ll try and write more about it tomorrow.

The Devious Nature of Artificial Sweeteners

I hate artificial sweeteners, all of them.  I hate the taste.  I worry about the long term health implications.  I hate how prominent they’ve become, where you have to read the ingredients because many labels do not explicitly call out that they contain fake sugar. I find fake sugar incredibly insidious and devious, promising something for nothing. But there is a price to pay.
In addition to the common health, taste, and social issues, I have some general philosophical oppositions to fake sugar.

Fake sugar is dishonest and counter-productive.  
It’s like cheating on a test.  You get the short term benefit of getting the grade or the “full” flavor of a soda, but it’s empty, and you haven’t addressed the underlying issues. 
Fake sugar changes your body’s metabolism
Most people don’t realize it changes the way your body naturally responds to sweet taste. With artificial sweeteners, your body gets sweet taste, but no calories with it. So your body produces enzymes expecting calories, but then doesn’t use them.  Eventually it stops producing the enzymes, stops processing real sugar as well, and doesn’t tell you you’re full when you do have real sugar. Plus, research has shown that diet drinks can actually hinder weight loss.

Fake sugar promotes sweeter flavors in all foods
Adding fake sugar to everything from drinks to yogurt reinforces the sweet tooth and creates and expectation for everything to be sweet.  Almost everything in the US is twice as sweet as I like, so I always prefer to mix it with the plain version, whether it means mixing equal parts of Gatorade with plain water, or flavored yogurt with plain yogurt.  
Fake sugar supports a broken diet culture
The consumption of fake sugar is representative of the larger problem with our Diet Culture.  As a nation, the US has one of the highest obesity rates, and simultaneously the most active “diet” culture, with new fads coming out monthly, dedicated “diet” food and clubs, and a not-insignificant subset of the population permanently in “diet” mode. 

The uncomfortable truth and the irony of consumption patterns
Without making any judgements, think about who consumes diet food and beverages.  Do you notice any patterns? I have found in my non-scientific observation of friends, acquaintances and general public that there is an inverse correlation between consumption of diet drinks and food and body size.  Is that ironic?  Or logical?
The Exception to the Rule – Diabetes
There is one glaring exception to my tirade against artificial sweeteners, and that is diabetes.  Artificial sweeteners have changed the lives of millions of diabetics for the better.  But are we making the longer term problem worse by creating far more diabetics with our continued reinforcement of the sweet taste?

The Solution
Be disciplined, train yourself to like things that are less sweet, account for all your calories honestly, and just eat less if you’re worried about weight and health.  I can write a whole post about that as well.

Revisiting Augmented Reality – The Potential Downsides

Revisiting Augmented Reality – The Potential Downsides

I recently came across an interesting post about the case against augmented reality.  I couldn’t help but think about my previous post about augmented reality and post-reality.
I tend to be an unabashed fan of technology and the benefits it has, which leads to occasionally overlooking some of the downsides.  As for augmented reality, I like to think of the ability to never forget people or faces, to always know where you are going, to have the information about buildings and stores at your fingertips (or corneas), and to efficiently catalog information that is not worth remembering.
Having said that, it’s interesting to think about the downsides. My biggest worry with AR and other technology that identifies people and matches against potentially known criminals is false-positives. I can imagine the challenge of trying to explain that the facial recognition software has made and that you’re innocent.  However, AR only highlights the need for proper safeguards, as this situation could happen in today’s world.
Here is an extreme example of how AR could offer some special information, such as recent purchases or homeowners travel plans, which could easily be exploited: 

However, simple breaches of privacy and location awareness that are implied by this graphic can and will be easily overcome. 
Another usual complaint about AR is the usual anti-technology rant about being less human.  But I’d challenge us to think about what makes us human.  It’s not our limbs, evidence by growing number of people with advanced prosthetics.  It’s not our ability to remember random 10 digit numbers we need to input when we want to reach a friend.  It’s not about memory at all, that’s a tool we use to think and analyze what we need to do in the moment.  Augmented reality augments memory and information more than anything.

Other than false identification (which can already happen) and burglary (which is easy to prevent with privacy and information controls), what’s out there that AR will actually negatively impact?  I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I will try to be more open about the challenges and negatives of technology, and this is a general theme I’ll likely be revisiting. 

Rebranding the Blog – Introducing “The Ambitious Life”

I started the idea of “The Ambitious Life” as a way to share all of my thoughts about life in general. I wanted to split it from my personal blog because it’s not as relevant to the short term consumer technology that I’m a part of. But as I thought more about it, I realized it would be a great personal blog, where I can share all of my thoughts, both about technology, and about life in general.

I have always had plenty of thoughts about life in general, and many of them were either too controversial for a blog with my name on it, or not consistent with a blog of a tech company founder. So I have tried to keep the ariel-diaz.com blog more relevant to technology, but I find that the tech space has plenty of commentary, and as unique as I think mine is, people aren’t looking for more.

And finally, I was talking this week with my buddy Matt Hodgson about how blogs should have interesting brands, other than the person’s name. It didn’t strike me until later that I already had a great brand, and that it would be ideal to combine the two.

So with that comes this transition. Welcome to The Ambitious Life. I’ll be writing about things I like writing and thinking about, whether or not they are controversial or good for business.

Thoughts on the upcoming Tablet or iSlate

In light of Apple’s finally confirmed event next week about their “new creation”, I wanted to capture my expectations. I got a little carried away on the details, but the headers will give you a good idea of what I’m thinking.

Aiming to Redefine Portable Computing

In general, I agree with John Gruber’s thoughtful post on the Tablet (well worth a read) and I don’t think this will be designed as a single focused device, e.g. an eReader or big iPhone. They are aiming to redefine laptops and portable computing, not to make a pretty interface for e-reading and movie browsing.

Thoughts on OS and Usability

Completely redefined Finder / File Browsing

Presumably on a computer of the rumored size and power there will be some more robust file structure than on an iPhone. Although file structure is fading away with cloud based services and Apple’s own push to make files meaningless in their iLife sweet, they are still here for now. However it’s easy to imagine what it could look like by using the CoverFlow viewer on the Mac Finder.

Full Screen Applications

Most people don’t understand the current paradigm of “Applications” and when you’re “in” an application. I think computing in general will move away from the floating windows to a full screen application. It’s hard to realize this until you have to explain to non-savvy users what an “Application” is, how to tell if they’re in one (“Mom, look up at the top left and what does it say, no the really top left). Every time I have to explain to

No iPhone App “Widgets”

Many people have been speculating that the Tablet will have the ability to either scale up iPhone apps, or enable them as widgets. I disagree because that would be the easy way out, and Apple doesn’t do that. They will make developers re-write their apps completely, to take advantage of the larger screen real estate, new gestures, background processing, and perhaps other goodies. The App Store has proven that developers are extremely willing to write new apps, and Apple will leverage this to make them create new versions and not give them the easy way out of letting exiting apps exist on the tablet.

Thoughts on the Steve’s Keynote

In typical Steve Jobs style, he will come on stage and make fun of current Tablet PCs including insults on usability (most require pens and have terrible UIs), aesthetics (I don’t need to elaborate), and usage cases (what do you do on them other than scribble illegible notes?). This will set the stage for him to focus on the usage cases that make the Tablet different. For Steve, it’s all about the product and how it’s used.

I can also see a similar type of introduction to Steve Jobs’ iPhone introduction, which they positioned as a “a revolutionary mobile phone, a widescreen iPod, and a breakthrough Internet device.” Perhaps a world-class eReader, a full size media center, and a breakthrough tablet computer. It’s worth watching the original iPhone keynote, which was 3 years ago. Steve wasn’t too far off with his prognostication that the phone was 5 years ahead of others, it took Google and the entire industry to come up with the closest bet to the original iPhone – 3 years later.

Core Usage Cases and Product Features

Productivity – Touch-ready iWork

One thing that really excites me that hasn’t been talked about in all this hoopla is the ability for a truly innovative productivity suite. Microsoft Office has not changed its fundamental structure in 15 years, other than questionable UI changes (i.e. the “Ribbons”). But Apple can leverage their internal iWork (already a much better office suite, except for Numbers vs. Excel 2003 for Windows) to create a dedicated version that leverages the strengths of a tablet. Admittedly this is more relevant and exciting for Keynote, for creating, editing or reviewing presentations, but is also relevant for Pages and Numbers, though not for heavy lifting. I think there already exists a UI framework that would make sense, similar to iPhoto full screen editing, with an auto-hiding browser on top and auto-hiding tool bar on the bottom.

Hub of Digital Life – Touch-ready iLife

Another core software suite will be porting iLife as a touch-ready application. iPhoto would probably be the most useful, but there might be new applications.

Reading

Even though Steve Jobs said that “nobody reads anymore”, it’s impossible to ignore that reading on a laptop / computer is a major usage case, just not necessarily books, as he was referring to. When I’m reading blogs, PDFs, or newspapers online, I’d certainly prefer a tablet form factor. And if it was good enough, I’d much rather have that to view my magazines (Wired, The Week and Popular Science) instead of the paper version. I also imagine Apple will be working with publishers (newspapers, magazines, books) to make the buying experience easier and get them excited about eReaders, which are here to stay. Again, this won’t be a dedicated device, but I’d be surprised if this is not laid out as a core usage.

Full iChat including Video Chat

The Tablet would certainly have the horsepower, and a front mounted built in iSight would make video converations incredibly simple and elegant.

Video

As more and more video consumption moves online and onto computers, it makes sense for a device that will essentially be just a screen to have a core and elegant video viewing interface. Apple also has strategic reasons to continue to push to centralize how people purchase and watch video. Watching a movie on a 10” screen is certainly more doable than on a 3.5” screen.

Areas that will NOT be core usage cases

Games

Apple is allegedly not happy with the fact that the iPod Touch and iPhone have become such game centered devices, but I think it makes sense on a device that size. The entire device is a great controller that offers unique handheld gaming abilities. A 10” devices does not lend itself to that type of gaming, and if you’re going to need a controller, then you might as well have a game console. I disagree with AppleInsider on this one.

Music

Music, which has been the center of the iPod revolution and was a core feature on the iPhone, will play a primary role on this device. iPod market penetration is already near saturated, and people want music portability, which a 10” tablet won’t offer.

Price: $999

Apple doesn’t go low end, they are not trying to compete with netbooks directly, especially at launch. They will try to create the best tablet computer ever created, and then potentially have it move down market to compete with netbooks, but don’t hold your breath (I’ve been waiting for a $299-399 Mac Mini for years and full expected they would come that low, but instead the base price increased from $499 to $599). Even at that price, you better believe people will be lining up around the block to buy one when they come out. I myself will be one of them (I bought the original iPhone at $599).

Doubtful but feasible and would be cool

True Docking Ability

If you take the keyboard off of the MacBook Air, and fold the screen down onto it, you can imagine a pretty thin tablet style computer. Now add 2 years of technology innovation on top of that, and you can see a tablet that should be just as powerful as a MacBook Air. When you think that a MacBook Air can run a 30” monitor with its video card and support a full array of USB connections, it’s easy to envision a tablet with a dock that gives it power, USB, and a display connection, through either USB, MagSafe, and MiniDisplayPort, or an iPod like connector. This way, when you’re at home or the office, you simply dock it in and have your main computer there, with an external screen, keyboard and mouse for full desktop computing.

Either way, I’m excited to see what Apple and Steve Jobs unveil. My guess is this will be as significant as the original iPhone announcement three years ago. Can’t wait.

Innovation Near and Far . . . Really Far

Earlier today I read an interesting post from Venture Hacks about how disruptive innovation will continue in the near term. Their analogy was about how computers are evolving and accelerating. We all know the evolution from mainframes to personal computers to laptops. This is common knowledge.

The technically adept also are very well aware about how mobile phones are the next phase, and will replace personal computers in the near future. This analysis reminded me of a post by John Gruber of Daring Fireball, who a year ago wrote about how the iPhone has as much computer as the top of the line Desktop computer from just 10 years ago. This is really fascinating and eye opening, and really supports Naval’s point.

It gets even more interesting when you start thinking another 10 or 20 or 40 years from now, and look at that type of innovation and acceleration in technology. I had a couple of beers with Matt Hodgson and Moe Kelley this evening, and we got into some very interesting discussions about the future, and business, which builds on the previous points (but in all reality deserves its own post, but since I’m bad about blogging, I thought I’d just throw it all in here)

Our discussion ranged from general technological advancement, to the companies that will die as a result of that advancement (think book publishers, newspapers, and “value-add” content distributers that are really dumb pipes), to the long term implications of this technological advancement. And that’s where things got really interesting. So we thought about a framework to capture this evolution, which I’ll roughly lay out here.

Phase 1: Today’s Reality – The $200 Billion Technological Revolution

Let’s face it, as much as we’re all excited about the companies that are changing the world today (Google) and the companies that will change the world in the coming months or years (Facebook), a lot of it really comes down to the shift in dollars from traditional advertising (TV, print, radio) to Internet and new media advertising. Google has already shown how profitable this can be, and many others are well positioned to take advantage of the remaining advertising dollars that have not shifted to the Internet, but inevitably will (really, it’s inevitable, just a matter of time). Yet even as exciting as that is, it’s still just 3-5% of our economy.

Phase 2: Augmented Reality – The Next Technological Revolution

There is a lot of talk among technology circles about Augmented Reality. Simple and known versions of this are location based services that tell you where your friends are (e.g. Loopt), or great local deals through coupons. More advanced augmented reality includes the ability to layer on information into any real world setting (e.g. Layar), which nearly infinite uses and benefits. In terms of economic benefits, I find it difficult to quantify the impact. It’s probably broader than advertising (think services, transactions, shopping, etc.).

Phase 3: Parallel Reality – The $2 Trillion Technological Revolution

The real mind bender is when you start looking at “Parallel Reality” (which given by the dearth and inconsistency of the Google search results isn’t even a broad concept). I define “Parallel Reality” as the third stage, where the real world continues to exist, but a “parallel reality” exists along side it. This is Second Life taken to a whole new level of realism, where things try feel, smell, and seem real. In this world, you still live your normal life, but might plug in (or something else) to a parallel reality where you can enjoy things you might not otherwise be able to do. This could mean things you could not afford (luxurious trips), things you couldn’t physically accomplish (climbing Mt. Everest for the physically able but not quite fit, or going for a jog for the physically incapable), or things that would be physically impossible (being in Tokyo for breakfast and Paris for lunch) or difficult (walking around Mars).

The reason I call this a $2 Trillion revolution is that it has the potential to impact fundamental industries such as travel, tourism, entertainment, restaurants, alcohol, etc. Basically anything that costs money to do in order to provide a mental or even physical stimulation that can be replaced in a virtual world is no longer safe from disruption the way it currently is.

Phase 4: Post Reality – All Bets are Off

Finally, at some point of technological evolution, we move past the physical world and even the virtual portrayal of the physical world. Fans of Ray Kurzweil will realize I’m treading into his territory. But once we move into a “world” where the virtual is more real and satisfying than the real, all bets are off. Government, the economy, society, are all irrelevant as they are defined today. Even if we’re all digital, enjoying immortality in a utopian “Matrix”, how do we physically keep the power on for all of our virtual brains and selves? I can go on, but I mainly wanted to illustrate how irrelevant everything we know is once we cross that chasm.

Before you write this off as sheer lunacy or even too far in the future for you to worry about, consider how fast technology is improving:

By the year 2020, your $1,000 personal computer will have the processing power of the human brain-20 million billion calculations per second (100 billion neurons times 1,000 connections per neuron times 200 calculations per second per connection). By 2030, it will take a village of human brains to match a $1,000 computer. By 2050, $1,000 worth of computing will equal the processing power of all human brains on earth.
Source: http://www.rense.com/ufo6/live.htm

That excerpt is from an article by Ray Kurzweil, and is worth a full read if you’re interested. But it’s clear that the computational power will be able to recreate worlds, recreate human brains, and recreate intelligence in the foreseeable future.

Back to Real Reality

Now bringing this all back to earth, there are lots of real opportunities in the short, medium, long, and real long term. I’m excited about all of them, and will be continuing to think and work in all realms. But every now and then it’s really interesting to step back and think about what the current technology revolution really means beyond the business models. Even more interesting is to think about what the world will be like when I’m really old dying (or not).

My First Ultra-Marathon – 50 Miles of Glory

It’s been a while since my last post, so I thought I’d jump back in with a personal post about my first ultra-marathon last Saturday.

Why oh Why?

The story actually starts about 4 months ago, during an evening of drinking with the Kendall Keiretsu. At that point, I had been on the sideline, and had not run for about 6 months because of a heel injury I go playing squash with Chris Keller. I was out of shape, and not happy about it. During the happy hour, I was talking with Moe Kelley about a book he was reading, Born to Run. We talked about the book for a while, about how humans evolved to run, and about how he was thinking about running a 50 mile ultra-marathon, inspired by the book. I found exactly the type of excuse I needed to get back in shape. So that night, after a few beers, I made a brilliant decision to join him and run the ultra-marathon. I really like making commitments that are more than you really should make, because it forces you to complete them.

Training, Training, and a Nasty Injury

Once I committed, I needed to start logging miles, lots of miles. I also purchased my own copy of Born to Run, and couldn’t put it down once I started reading it. It really helped motivate me, and got me thinking about new running styles. I never did go all the way to get a pair of Vibram Five Fingers, but I did do weekly barefoot sprints.

After about 2 months of training, and working up to 17 mile runs on weekend, disaster struck. 9 miles into a 20 mile run, I had an intense sharp pain in my left Achilles heel, and had to hobble my way home. I was really worried that this would sideline my plans. If you run that much, you’re bound to get injured. My friend Moe, who had this idea in the first place, was also sidelined with a stress fracture in his foot, which would eventually keep him out of the marathon and ultra. To be sure, I went to my podiatrist, had an MRI, and took 2 weeks off from running, before slowly working my way back up.

It turned out to be nothing serious, but to be safe I changed the way I ran to put less stress on the Achilles. I started landing on the forefoot, instead of the more traditional heel-toe. There are lots of reasons the heel-toe is not good for you, and the injury was the final straw to get me to change. The first couple of weeks were very difficult, since you work different muscles, but it was worth it.

Along the way, I built a sweet little spreadsheet to help me keep track of the miles. Below is a graph of the running log. It shows daily and weekly mileage, and speed, in a nice visual way. I rested the week of Aug 24, before ramping back up. The Bay State Marathon was on October 18, and the last big bar is obviously the 50 Mile race


Final Prep and Taper

In the 2 weeks leading up to the race, I tried to stay off my feet, ran very little, drank lots of water, tried to sleep a lot, and avoided coffee and alcohol. This all went well, except for the night before the race, when I had to drive back down from Hanover, NH, then get up at 5 am, meaning I only got 5 hours of sleep.

Race Day

The race started at 6:15 in the morning, just as the sun was coming up, to give people enough time to finish before it got dark if possible. I went with my usual pre-run breakfast, banana, coffee, and bread. Chris, my brother-in-law, drove me to the race since we had stayed with him and my sister the night before, to be closer to the race. The race was limited to 150 people running the full 50 mile race, and 150 doing a marathon on the same course. This is probably one of the few times that a marathon is a “short” run.

The course was four 12.5 mile loops in a forest preserve. It was incredibly hilly, had loose rocks all over, and 3 inch high exposed roots. And to make it worse, all the dangers were covered by 3-4 inches of loose leaves all over the course. I tripped and fell once, and hit my toes a few dozen times on the various roots and rocks, which was incredibly painful when your legs are in the middle of a 50 mile run.

At about 26 miles into the race, I started cramping up really badly. I was worried about finishing, and realized that this was the hardest physical thing I’d ever attempted. Luckily at the next aid station a few miles later, I was able to get some ibuprofen, water, bacon, and a shot of whiskey to help thin out the blood.

About a mile after that station, I saw Andrea, Chris, and Nadine, who made it to the course to cheer me on. It really helped to see them, and I kept pushing along. By the time I finished the third loop, I knew I would finish, even though I still had 12 miles to go.

This picture captures how I felt at about half way:

Later on, ironically, I actually felt better and was surprised at how fresh I looked with about 8 miles to go (below). And that thing I’m holding is actually a water bottle that I duct-taped to my hand so I would have water the entire time, even between the aid stations. It was a life saver.

The Finish

I finished in 10 hours and 7 minutes (see Full results). It felt great to finish, and no, I never reached a state of zen where I just floated along. It hurt, I pushed through, nothing magic. But the adrenaline at the end was awesome. Here is the finish:

Twitter and Facebook

There has been a lot of buzz recently about Twitter. Just a few months ago, it was a techie network that was difficult to explain to an existing user, let alone anyone that had never heard of it. Not, it’s a mainstream phenomenon that everyone is talking about. This came to head with all the ridiculous Ashton vs. CNN race to a million users (Ashton won), and Oprah’s first tweet. The explosive growth is a result of reaching a critical mass of users, getting celebrities started, and having a wide range of support tools (e.g. TweetDeck, Nambu).

As a result of this growth, Facebook has been reacting, or possibly over-reacting, as evidenced with their recent redesign. The controversial redesign is trying to focus more on status updates, and copied a lot of Twitter (and FriendFeed) features. Given the explosive growth, Facebook is certainly justified in their fears.

Lead Users

Facebook is worried about the Lead Users, the early adopters. Among my tech friends, we all are spending more time interacting with Twitter than we are with Facebook. I do this is mainly because it’s much easier to actually interact with Twitter (with the tools I referenced earlier, my favorite is Nambu). And on top of that, I’ve found that Twitter is more useful and relevant for what I need.

Chasing the Wrong Problem

Twitter is winning the status update wars. But that’s ok. Facebook is caught up in this because it thought that status messages were such an important part to it’s value proposition, right from it’s initial conception, inspired partly by AIM status messages. (On a side note, other sites need to get over the status update issue and stop trying to force users to update their status, yes I’m talking to you Plaxo and LinkedIn).

Facebook = Identity

Facebook right now is so much more than a fancy way to update your status message. It’s your IDENTITY. Facebook is trying to win back status messages and real time conversation. Instead, it should just realize it’s about identity, and focus on that. Facebook Connect is important, and if they neglect that, it won’t become what I hope it becomes.

Twitter = Communication

Twitter is leading in real time communication. Ironically, it’s also going back into the era of random user names that I was hoping Facebook has ended. That’s not as bad as it once was because there are more ways to map the random names to names that make sense to you, i.e. real names. But the implication of Twitter’s usernames is that it makes it much less likely to become a standard login protocol (as TechCrunch is implying).

Facebook’s use of real names and validation makes it well suited for a global identify management, and Twitter’s open standards make it well suited for real time public conversation. I don’t mind some overlap, as long as they each don’t lose focus on what makes them valuable.

The Irony of the Move to Paid Web Services

Web 2.0 companies often focus on growing very aggressively, ignoring short term revenue. Part of this is due to the face that many Web 2.0 models offer free to use, ad-supported products, which inherently needs to get to an incredible scale before generating meaningful ad revenue.

However with the current economic environment, companies are being pushed to generate revenue and get to cash flow positive sooner than they previously expected. As a response, in the coming months I expect to see a lot more previously ad-only websites and services to begin moving to premium or freemium models.

37Signals has been preaching this philosophy all along, encouraging developers and entrepreneurs to create something valuable that people are willing to pay for. Despite looking prescient now, they have been mocked by the tech community, including a post from TechCrunch, who half-jokingly blamed them for driving a company to the deadPool. We’ll certainly see more companies headed to the deadpool, but as a result of having ad-only models, rather than following 37Signals’s advice.

The irony of this entire situation is that companies are trying to start charging customers as consumers are slowing spending faster than they have in decades. However, it’s still the right move, especially considering that Internet users are getting more comfortable paying for services they use, and that many internet services, even if they charged, would still be cheaper than their offline or other alternatives.

At YouCastr, we have always had a two pronged business model that relied on advertising and paid services. Reflecting the current economic state, we have focused our product development and marketing efforts towards accelerating our paid services. It’s a move we are all certainly excited about, and a decision that was easy to make.

On a fun closing note, I would characterize the previous attitude towards revenue for web startups as similar to Allen Iverson’s disdainful attitude towards practice in his infamous press conference. I can almost see it now, a Web 2.0 CEO at a board meeting saying:

“We’re talking about revenue. We’re talking about REVENUE! We’re not talking about the company. We’re talking about revenue. When you come to our offices, you see see us code, you see us getting users, you see us giving it everything we’ve got, but we’re talking about revenue right now.

Well those days are long gone, and the crop of companies that survives is going to be better for it.

(For a fun diversion, read the entire transcript of Iverson’s press conference, but replace “practice” with “revenue”, “Coach Brown” with “The Board”, and “game” with “company”.)

YouCastr: New and Improved

This week we launched a completely new website, including a complete redesign, a range of new features, and improved overall usability. Our development team has been working extremely hard on this update for the past 2 months, culminating in a final, all-night 30 hour homestretch to get the site live. Their dedication and hard work has paid off.

Overall goals
The main goal of the update was to make it easier for our users to do what they love doing on YouCastr. We also put a lot of effort making it clearer to organize and schedule live broadcasts for non-mainstream sporting events, such as high school and non-covered college sports that we’re seeing on the site. Because we focus on sports, we can create a much better way to organize sports broadcasts across all different levels and leagues.

New Design
The first thing existing users will notice is the new design. We have been working on the new design for the past 2 months, and the final result is the most concrete impact of our full time Web Designer, Fred Yates. He’s done a great job with the design, and constantly tweaking and improving it. The design is a lot sportier, crisper, and tighter, and creates a great framework for us to continue developing great new features.

New Features
Aside from the redesign, the major new feature is the ability to upload audio and video content. This is our first foray into video, where people can upload entire sporting events, highlight clips, or pre-recorded sports shows. The ability to upload audio now allows people to upload their previously recorded and produced podcasts, for those users that are more familiar with that medium. Before this update, users could only stream the content live, and it would automatically be archived for playback or download. There are more, so you’ll want to see all of YouCastr’s new features

Usability Improvements
We rethought all of the key processes to make it easier for our users to do everything, including creating live content, uploading content, writing articles, and navigating around the site. We’ve applied all of what we’ve learned over the past year since our private beta launch, and applied it to our current focus.

Result of Changes
These changes put us in an even better position to continue revolutionizing the way fans, parents, and alumni follow non mainstream sports. As we move forward, we will be introducing new features to make YouCastr better and better. I’m really excited about where we are and how far we’ve come, and there are a lot of great new things in store.

MassTLC UnConference

Today I went to the MassTLC unConference. It was an interesting structure for a conference, where the entire agenda is created by the audience on the day of the actual conference. It brought together a great mix of entrepreneurs, investors, and technologists for a day of interaction. The structure (or rather unstructure) allowed anyone to create a session on any topic by simply writing it up on a card, picking a time and a room, and posting it on the central board. Then people could review the “agenda”, and pick the topics that they were interested in. It worked better than it sounds, and better than I was expecting.

In the morning I went to a session on digital video on the internet. We talked a little bit about the technology, but ended up focusing on business models and monetization. The biggest challenge right now for web video is monetization. One investor specifically commented that they are staying away from web video currently for that reason. One of the biggest challenges is getting ad buyers to understand and get comfortable with the new mediums. It’s a dollar to dimes issue that the video industry will have to come to terms with. The newspaper industry is already dealing with this. Essentially, for every dollar of revenue that newspapers (and soon broadcasters/cable companies, video producers, etc.) are losing, they are only seeing 10 cents of revenue from their online equivalent. There are two ways to address this: lowering production / overhead costs to make that 10 cents more valuable, or increasing that 10 cents through innovative advertising channels. There is a lot of creativity going into that space now, but Madison Ave. hasn’t caught up yet.

We also talked about the monetization potential of different content types. Niche sites generally have more loyal audiences and higher CPM rates, but are harder to scale. Premium content with higher production value has a larger total audience potential, but needs much more advertising revenue to support that higher production cost and higher paid actors.

At YouCastr, our sports focus makes our web video addresses many of the concerns with distributed video. For one, large brand advertisers like Nike and Coca-Cola will be comfortable associating their brands with high school and college sporting events, which are safe. Second, sporting events are long and have natural breaks, meaning people are willing to sit through a short pre-roll if they are going to watch a 2 hour event, and ads during timeouts and halftime are generally accepted. And third, we are not planning on producing the content, which means we can monetize an audience of 1, versus ESPN which needs tens of thousands (if not more) viewers to pay for the production cost and opportunity cost of showing something on a cable channel (fixed distribution inventory). Fourth, sports fans are LOYAL. I can go on about the business merits of focusing on sports, but maybe I’ll have to devote an entire post to that.

I also had a couple of interesting lunch sessions. The first was with James Geshwiler from Common Angels. We talked about angel fundraising, key challenges, and the key differences between angel and VC financing. The second lunch session was with George Bell of General Catalyst. He was truly energetic, offered short but insightful feedback, and gave us all a good inside perspective about the impact of the overall economy on VC’s investment strategy. Generally, new investments are down in order to reserve cash for future deals and existing portfolio companies. The environment is definitely tough right now, but that’s also the topic for another post, this one’s already getting long.

In the afternoon, I led a session about attacking the Long Tail, which in our case means reaching long tail content creators (high school and college sports broadcasters) and content consumers (the small niche audiences for each sport). We had some interesting dialog about the challenges to reach them, and some effective ways to actually do it.

Overall, the day was great. Got to meet some really interesting people, and to experience a different type of conference that was very refreshing and created a lot of opportunities for chance encounters and casual conversation.

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