Community, Entrepreneurship

A Facilitator’s Journey: Startup Weekend Lancaster

That was quite the drive. But after hours of road time through the back hills of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I have arrived at the small city of Lancaster. As preparation to facilitate the Startup Weekend event this weekend, I learned how to correctly pronounce the city’s name. This is one of the smallest events I have been to with less than 40 people attending. The experience is great, just the same, though. Friday night pitches were creative, and I heard some fantastic ideas: everything from 3D printed coffee-top designs to a ride sharing app.

As of the time of this writing, the teams have coalesced into four (maybe five) teams, and are working hard to flush out their ideas and start some software and customer development. I am continuously impressed by the level of passion individuals bring to their work at Startup Weekend events, even if the idea isn’t originally theirs. Can’t wait for Sunday night presentations!

Follow some of the action on Twitter, and be sure to tweet at me with #startups. Go teams!

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Community, Technology

Why I Returned My Google Glass

Ajay GlassFirst of all, yes, you can return Google Glass. Why did I? Well, rather than start from the beginning, I think I will start from the end. I had coffee with my CEO, Ajay Banga, a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, Ajay is the kind of down-to-earth person you don’t think CEOs of major corporations to be. Some of our discussion revolved around potential markets for this type of wearable technology, and the requirements for significant adoption. We had some fun with my Glass (as you can see to the right and here) and talked about the landscape of wearables in general. Where we immediately agreed was that the consumer proposition wasn’t quite there yet for something mainstream, even with products like Pebble and Gear in the market. We’ll get there, eventually, but we aren’t there today.

944835_10152144915052008_1408164435_nI’ve been a Glass Explorer for about a month now, and overall, it has been a great experience. Essentially acting as a volunteer beta tester, I’ve been able to interact with other Explorers in a closed discussion environment and provide product feedback to the Google Glass team. It has been a good experience overall, as I discussed in my initial review. My main concern with the Explorer edition has been the hardware, which should improve with future iterations. What has been most interesting in my testing has been the social implications of wearing the device. Some folks have come up to me asking about it, wanting to learn more. Others keep away and almost ostracize me, seemingly unsure of who (or what) I am. I know the Google Glass team is well aware of these issues from both testers and the media, and I am sure that will be reflected in future hardware changes.

Even with the recent announcement of Glass frames, it is tough for me to justify the price to myself. I am still very excited about the potential of this technology, and I hope to rejoin the program or purchase a future version of the device. This is one Glass Explorer signing off, for now…

What are your thoughts on wearable technology? Tweet at me with #wearables, and let me know!

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Entrepreneurship

B2B v. B2C v. …..

In a recent conversation I was having with a NYC early-stage VC, the conversation turned to a topic I quite honestly hadn’t thought much about: “In the near future, do you think B2B or B2C will be bigger?” After giving my reply, he thought that my view of B2B was contradictory to the general viewpoint of the venture capital industry. Thinking back, however, perhaps what I had a greater difficulty with was the premise of the question itself.

Traditionally, we have seen a lot companies serving businesses (broadly defined) and consumers. Now, however, we have some terrific large and small companies serving developers, an entirely new customer of the 21st century. One customer that continues to be underserved is governments, especially “non-federal” ones. I call this group SMGs (small and medium governments). There is a real data service opportunity for this group, and only a handful of local, startup and nonprofit organizations currently serving it.

Remember, that’s just the customer base; now let’s think of the even larger issue of geography. Yes, the internet has made certain products, platforms and services available to a wider variety of populations, but that does not mean that a US solution is applicable to Brazil. Of course there will be corporate consolidation through M&A activity, but the solutions still remain relatively unique given equal scaling opportunities.

So if asked again, do I think B2B or B2C will be bigger in the near term, I think the answer will be: “Yes. They will both be big, as will B2D and B2G. Plenty of room in all four for growth.”

What industries do you think will be biggest in the startup world? Tweet at me with #nextgen, and let me know!

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Technology

My First Week With Google Glass

BcWFA2IIEAAn_3fYes, I am now a Glass Explorer. It has been an interesting experience, to say the least. In an effort to make what could be a very long post digestible, I am going to take a hint from Buzzfeed and make this as list-oriented as possible. Here are some of my initial reactions to Google Glass:

The experience of getting Glass was fittingly simple. The Google Glass studio at Chelsea Market was a very simple experience, and I could have just as easily gotten it in the mail.

The hardware is adequate, but leaves much to be desired. Once I got over the initial shock of having Glass, inspecting the hardware itself revealed a fairly basic device. While Glass looks great, it doesn’t seem very solid and I often find myself handling it consciously. The battery life is good, at best. The camera is ok. The bridge is adjustable with three sets of different size nose pads, so customization is there, however limited.

The voice input experience is great, but only in an ideal situation. Most of the functions are voice based with a touch-surface-based secondary input. Glass can be a little hard of hearing in a crowded area. I also found that, with others wearing the device, I could still give the device verbal commands. Imagine what multiple Glass owners in a small room would do… poor devices. Otherwise, the input experience is fantastic and responsible.

BceNOzsIUAALvpoThe software user experience is learnable, but limited. The actual interface takes a little getting used to, with a transition from traditional “apps” to “cards.” The voice interface we have talked about, and the touch functionality could use some changes (like swiping up to delete cards instead of having to tap through the process), but overall it is easy to use with some practice. There isn’t much Glassware available yet, but the new GDK will hopefully change that.

The device heavily relies on your smartphone. We have seen the focus by Google move rapidly from locally-oriented software to cloud-based solutions, especially with another hardware initiative of theirs, and the same can be said about Glass. While there is plenty of memory on the device (12GB usable), and I am fortunate to have one of the old unlimited data plans, I could see myself becoming a very frustrated user without access to the search function or the navigation function, not to mention social media accounts. Yes, the device itself can access WiFi, but if you are outside the house the last thing you want to do is set WiFi up on a keyboard-less device.

There is a social etiquette to using Glass. I’ve picked it up quickly, as I think most would, but there are places and times when Glass shouldn’t be used.

Overall, using Glass has been good, and I hope to continue testing in different situations. More Glass-related posts to come!

Interested in learning more about my experiences, or have some of your own #throughglass experiences to share? Tweet at me with #GlassAct, and let me know!

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Entrepreneurship, Technology

Retail’s Future

Danbury_Fair_interiorI don’t normally shop around since I am the kind of person who usually does their product research before making a purchase, but I found myself at one of the malls in Connecticut this weekend (with half of the State’s population, it seemed). As I walked around, I was reminded of the many discussions I have had with colleagues and associates about the future of retail. Usually, those discussions included companies like Amazon and Apple (a past employer of mine), and technology like NFC / contactless payments. Overall, here are a few conclusions I have reached about the needs of retail if it is to thrive in the future:

1. It is all about the experience. When a consumer goes into a brick and mortar store, a great experience can mean the difference between browsing and purchasing. It can also define a brand. I remember when I was getting my first computer before college, I wanted a Macbook Pro. Sure I could have just ordered it online, or gone to my local computer store to buy it, but instead I drove 45 minutes to the closest Apple Store, simply because I wanted the “Apple buying experience.” Apple has been particularly successful with defining this experience, having the highest sales per square foot of any other retailer. As Apple recently announced with the introduction of iBeacon, personalization is key to future consumer experience.

2. Consumers should not have to think about payments. From a merchant perspective, there remains a continued concern of “abandoned shopping carts,” typically discussed as a phenomenon with online commerce, but a remaining concern for brick and mortar stores. The last thing a merchant wants is a willing consumer who decides to abandon their purchase because of the checkout process. There continues to be development around this pain point with products like PayPal’s Beacon and the Square Wallet, but this is a particular area ripe for further innovation, and we will continue to see the convergence of the physical and digital in solutions.

3. Merchants are looking for low-cost revenue and expense solutions. Most retailers do not have great margins, particularly restaurants. Any low cost-solution that helps a business achieve greater revenue (typically through new customer acquisition) or cut down on costs (usually though supply chain efficiencies) is good. Unfortunately, due to their uniqueness, this is often difficult for SMBs to inexpensively obtain these services. We will continue to see easy-to-use data-based solutions like Swipely that help SMBs understand their customers, but there is still a great deal more opportunity in this space.

I always enjoy learning more about companies helping solve these issues. Tweet at me with #FutureRetail, and show me what you’ve got!

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