Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Technology

Time to Make Some Magic

Ever since I was a kid (am I no longer a kid?), I have been fascinated by technology and its applications. I was one of those people who took apart and (sometimes) put computers back together. I would experiment with materials and technology to see how these things interacted (I once created a liquid plastic that permanently hardened when exposed to air for a few hours – that carpet needed replacing anyway, Mom). At the same time, I was a heavy reader. I would read mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy, non-fiction – books that transported me to other worlds or other parts of my world and stretched my imagination. Those experiences, however, were confined by the instruments through which I engaged in them: books, screens, physical facilities, instruments, etc. But what if the only limits to our experiences were those we established for ourselves? That would be beyond amazing – that would be a dream. The same would be true for the opportunity to help build such an enabling product.

That is why I am thrilled to finally announce that I have joined Magic Leap! For those who are not familiar with the startup, Magic Leap is fundamentally shifting how we humans interact with our environment, real and imagined.

Picture yourself in elementary school sitting in your classroom learning about fish and watching those very animals swim above your head. Envision battling your friends with little digital monsters in the real world like you dreamed about doing as a kid. Imagine interacting with characters from one of your favorite sci-fi series‘ at a famous cantina. New technologies are enabling these types of experiences.

And while I cannot yet reveal exactly what I am working on, I can say that this technology and the experience of using it is not hype – this is happening, and I am honored and excited to be a part of the team. 

Time to make some magic.

The opinions expressed herein are those of Brien Buckman and are not necessarily the position of Magic Leap. 

Entrepreneurship, Leadership

Book Review: The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Practical. Insightful. Honest. I was highly impressed by Ben Horowitz‘s book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers.” This is a must-read for anyone interested in the business world – startup or not.

Ben does an excellent job of not just describing a series of events and points of recommendation but of illustrating the emotion behind the same. He does so in a very realistic fashion, as well. Reading the book, I felt as if I was experiencing a fraction of this emotion, appreciating both elated and dark moments. With his recommendations, Ben was not afraid to show both sides of an argument. His examples were not hypothetical or academic, but built on real experience, making the read much more enjoyable.

On top of the content value, Ben is also donating 100% of the book earnings to the American Jewish World Service.

I strongly recommend this book.

Community, Entrepreneurship, Leadership

Building a Corporate Culture

IMG_1249MasterCard opened an office in Manhattan this year. It’s not a bad space for a reinventing tech company. Right now we are in a temporary space which offers terrific views of downtown and both sides of the island (see pictures courtesy of my iPhone). The office is software and “innovation” focused – the teams in this office are working on cutting edge and/or high priority products and platforms, identical in mission to the final office that is scheduled to open before the end of the year.

One of the neat things about helping open a new space is that I have the opportunity to help shape the culture of the office. It is a unique opportunity normally reserved for organization founders or early members/employees. It is slightly different from a startup in that we are not just creating something from scratch or from previous experiences – we are creating a branch of an existing corporate culture. So how have we begun to do this? Two simple changes have made a significant difference:

IMG_1273The permanent space is open desk style, but even our temporary space is more open and clustered. This has lead to more conversations among employees in the office, which has helped break down any barriers that may have existed between technology and product teams. Collaboration has greatly increased among employees, even for projects not included in core responsibilities.

The office dress code is startup casual, though we certainly have some stragglers from headquarters who work in dress pants. For the most part, casual dress has lead to a less stressful environment. My hypothesis is that employees are more efficient if they are as comfortable as possible in their work environment. Anecdotally, the results in the office seem to support this.

We are in phase one of this cultural transformation, and I will certainly be writing more about it as we continue to build this office. Any tips or tricks to building a great work culture? Tweet at me with #culture, and let me know!

Entrepreneurship, Leadership

The Key to Startup Success?

A friend of mine recently asked me what I thought the key to a successful startup was. Even though I’m involved in the entrepreneurship community and have heard many others speak on this topic, I wanted to make sure I gave him a thoughtful answer. I kept thinking of everything I’ve learned over my number of years engaged in entrepreneurship from both an operator and facilitator standpoint: Business Model Canvas, Learn Canvas, the importance of customer development, user experience design, etc. The one thing that kept sticking in my mind, however, is the need for great people. What I mean by this is leaders who have complementary skills with the ability to productively work in concert to accomplish a goal. There are several important parts of this definition:

Leaders – individuals who can inspire and enable the success of others. This includes the recruiting, training, and retaining of employees and cofounders.

Complimentary Skills – See previous post.

Productively Work in Concert – This doesn’t mean that founders have to cover favorite bands at the local coffee shop every night, but teams should have compatible working styles.

To Accomplish a Goal – Your end goal will change along the journey but whatever it changes to, the team must still work together to reach it.

Want your startup to have the best chance of success? Have the best team possible. You need only read the latest startup news in your favorite tech publications to see the impact this can have. By the way, this doesn’t just apply to the startup world: in any size corporation, the most fundamentally important asset is great people. Tweet at me with #startuphire, and tell me whether you agree or disagree!

Community, Entrepreneurship, Technology

Technology / Government / Data

No, not that kind of technology. This week, the legislative committee I chair in Stamford kicked off what I hope will be an ongoing conversation about the use of technology and data in our government. It is very exciting to think about the opportunities that are available to not only improve the quality of life for many in the city, but also increase the operational efficiency of how the city operates. Stamford also has the potential to be on the leading edge of not just opening up data for viewing, but enabling the use of data through APIs. Our ability to make these long-term investments takes more than just a wish, and I look forward to working with local, state, and private officials to see Stamford become a true “smart city.”

It has been fantastic for me to view these opportunities from both a government and private sector perspective. I am very thankful for the opportunities I have been given to learn as much as I have. I hope it will serve me well in the future, as AOL co-founder Steve Case predicts. Too often, we see governments in the United States (and perhaps elsewhere) trying to shape technological solutions to their purported needs rather than being adaptive to the rapid evolution of available solutions. Part of the reason for this is the embedded process of these types of institutions (ie bureaucracy), but that doesn’t mean our governments can’t be a little more agile; it just takes some evolving of their own.

How would you like to see cities effectively use technology and data? Tweet at me with #SmartCity to let me know!

Community, Entrepreneurship, Leadership

Inverse(STEM) – What Happened to Well-Rounded?

For a few years now, some of the most notable technology executives have impressed upon today’s youth the importance of learning to code and the importance of STEM. Even President Obama jumped on the bandwagon in 2013. When I served on the board of the University of Connecticut, we worked with our Governor to launch a new operational and capital investment initiative by the state called NextGen Connecticut. The focus of this initiative, as you can read about, was additional STEM faculty, facilities and programs. STEM initiatives, in general, are good for the long-term health of our businesses and society as long as they are not created through or with the debilitation of other initiatives. It is that last part I’m a little worried about.

Dave McClure and the 500 Startups team, who are doing tremendous work globally in entrepreneurship communities, focus on finding great companies that have three key team ingredients, succinctly called “H2D”: a hacker (software developer), a hustler (sales/business development), and a designer (product architect/humanist). This team formula can create fantastic results, as we’ve seen from many of their portfolio companies. Yet STEM only focuses on one or two of these three legs, those being hacker and (maybe) designer. Not even discussing the broader needs of society, have we become to narrowly focused on STEM while forgetting other important fields?

Fortunately, I have been able to become somewhat fluent in particular programming languages, enough to have a certain level of conversation with software developers. As a kid, I went to a computer science camp and learned some game design (yes, I was/am a nerd, let’s move on). Later, I took courses on Codecademy and I continue to work with many of our product groups at MasterCard who were building APIs. I never have any intention of being a developer, but a certain level of fluency has been useful. My job at Apple was sales and marketing focused, so that box has certainly been checked. You could say I have filled in two parts of Dave’s formula so far, which just leaves some design experience. I’ve been able to take on some prototyping projects, but I am sure I will lean on resources like GA to help fill the gap.

So while the President, industry leaders, and many individuals are correct in suggesting that individuals learn to code (or more specifically, gain some level of fluency in coding as one might learn a spoken language in school), it is also important that our leaders recognize, even from an economic development persecutive, the importance of other skills and fields.

Thoughts on educational investment for the next generation? Tweet at me with #edu, and let me know!

Entrepreneurship, Technology

Modular Hardware = Consumer Win

Have you heard about Project Ara from Google? If not, you should check it out. It is an exciting initiative focused on offering modular phones to consumers. For those of you not familiar with this concept, allow me to use a fun example: Mr. Potato Head. With our spudly friend, we can swap ears, limbs, eyes, add accessories, and change expressions; all without purchasing a new Mr. Potato Head. The proposition of a modular phone is not too different: instead of purchasing phone after phone just for different hardware components, a consumer could simply replace part of the device. For instance, if a consumer wanted a new high-definition camera, he or she could simply remove the existing block component and swap it for a purchased new one. Or that person could add hardware functionality that might not otherwise be available, like NFC with a secure element.

This is a huge opportunity for consumers. Conceivably, costs for these devices and parts will decrease as more and more are produced. This means that quality hardware will be made available to a wider customer base, although if you’re a tween or teenager, this also means that you may be upgrading your device components every couple of months; a potentially expensive scenario for enabling parents.

With this being a Google initiative, I am also hoping that certified third parties will be able to offer standardized components for this platform, keeping with Google’s (relative) tradition of enabling an open ecosystem. I would also be interested in seeing some hardware specifications open-sourced and made 3D printable, but maybe I’m getting ahead of myself..

Overall, I am excited for what this project could mean for global smartphone adoption and consumer customization. Supposedly, we will be seeing the first of these devices in January 2015, and I look forward to testing one. If you are interested in helping with Project Ara, I recommend signing up here and additionally checking out Phonebloks. Be sure to tweet me with your thoughts on modular!