Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Want A Great Team? Focus On Talent, Not Hiring

Posted: 08 Jan 2012 09:30 AM PST


Editor’s note: Guest contributor DJ Patil is the Chief Data Scientist at Greylock Partners. He previously worked for LinkedIn as their Chief Scientist and Chief Security Officer. DJ can be followed on Twitter @dpatil.

One of the questions most founders always ask is about the key secrets to hiring.  What they need to understand is that there's a big difference between "hiring" and "talent".  I'm continually surprised how rarely I see people put down their strategy for talent compared to hiring. It's so prevalent, in fact, you'll often see on a company’s priorities a bullet of "hiring".  And that slight shift in wording fundamentally sets up the wrong dynamics.  Hiring, is a sub-bullet of talent and if you're focusing on hiring you'll be quickly setting up a revolving door.  However, if you're focusing on talent, you now can create a strategy to build a great team.In my experience of building teams in academia, government, and industry at different sizes, I've found three critical questions that help an organization create that shift to focus on talent.

1. Would we be willing to do a startup with you?

This is the first question we ask ourselves as a team when we meet to evaluate a candidate. It sums up a number of key criteria:

  • Time: If we’re willing to do a startup with you, we’re agreeing that we’d be willing to be locked in a small room with you for long periods of time. The ability to enjoy another person’s company is critical to being able to invest in each other’s growth.
  • Trust: Can we trust you? Will we have to look over your shoulder to make sure you’re doing an A+ job? That may go without saying, but the reverse is also important: will you trust me? If you don’t trust me, we’re both in trouble.
  • Communication: Can we communicate with each other quickly and efficiently? If we’re going to spend a tremendous amount of time together and if we need to trust each other, we’ll need to communicate. Over time, we should be able to anticipate each other’s needs in a way that allows us to be highly efficient.

2. Can you “knock the socks off” of the company in 90 days?

Once the first criteria has been met, it’s critical to establish mechanisms to ensure that the candidate will succeed. We do this by setting expectations for the quality of the candidate’s work, and by setting expectations for the velocity of his or her progress.First, the “knock the socks off” part: by setting the goal high, we’re asking whether you have the mettle to be part of an elite team. More importantly, it is a way of establishing a handshake for ensuring success. That’s where the 90 days comes in. A new hire won’t come up with something mind blowing if the team doesn’t bring the new hire up to speed quickly. The team needs to orient new hires around existing systems and processes. Similarly, the new hire needs to make the effort to progress, quickly. Does this person ask questions when they get stuck? There are no dumb questions, and toughing it out because you’re too proud or insecure to ask is counterproductive. Can the new hire bring a new system up in a day, or does it take a week or more? It’s important to understand that doing something mind-blowing in 90 days is a team goal, as much as an individual goal. It is essential to pair the new hire with a successful member of the team. Success is shared.

This criterion sets new hires up for long-term success. Once they’ve passed the first milestone, they’ve done something that others in the company can recognize, and they have the confidence that will lead to future achievements. I’ve seen everyone from interns all the way to seasoned executives meet this criterion. And many of my top people have had multiple successes in their first 90 days.  There's nothing better than being in a large meeting with one of the newer people on the team and hearing person A say, "Who's that and why are they here?". Person B, "That's —- who did —- project."  Person A, "Wow".

3. In four to six years, will you be doing something amazing?

What does it mean to do something amazing? You might be running the team, leading the division, or the company. You might be doing something in a completely different discipline. You may have started a new company that’s changing the industry. It’s difficult to talk concretely because we’re talking about potential and long-term futures. But we all want success to breed success, and I believe we can recognize the people who will help us to become mutually successful.

I don’t necessarily expect a new hire to do something amazing while he or she works with us. The four- to six-year horizon allows members of the team to build long-term road maps. Many organizations make the time commitment amorphous by talking about vague, never-ending career ladders. But professionals no longer commit themselves to a single company for the bulk of their careers. With each new generation of professionals, the number of organizations and even careers has increased. So rather than fight it, embrace the fact that people will leave, so long as they leave to do something amazing. What I’m interested in is the potential: if you have that potential, we all win and we all grow together, whether your biggest successes comes with my team or somewhere else.

Finally, this criteria is mutual. A new hire won’t do something amazing, now or in the future, if the organization he or she works for doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain. The organization must provide a platform and opportunities for the individual to be successful. Throwing a new hire into the deep end and expecting success doesn’t cut it. Similarly, the individual must make the company successful to elevate the platform that he or she will launch from.  The goal in the end is to create the next PayPal, or LinkedIn, Mafia.

Image: A1stock/Shutterstock

You Can’t Spell Media Without “Me”

Posted: 08 Jan 2012 07:30 AM PST

social media

Editor’s note: Guest contributor Ben Elowitz  (@elowitz) is co-founder and CEO of Wetpaint, a media company distributing content through the social web. Prior to Wetpaint, Elowitz co-founded Blue Nile (NILE). He blogs about digital media at Digital Quarters.

Without question, one of the greatest gifts of the human species is our ability to communicate.  We can create, transmit, and absorb ideas with immense freedom in pictures, speech, writing, music, and more.  And yet, from the earliest days of man until very recently, the state of the art of media has been about as sophisticated as cave paintings.

Taking this a step further:

Truly great communicators don't start out by focusing on their message.  They start with their audience.  They research, observe, and monitor every knowable detail – from background facts beforehand to micro-reactions during the conversation – and adjust their content and delivery precisely, so it will make an impact.  But it's not like this is a secret formula.  Even toddlers do it, carefully measuring parents' reactions and perpetually tuning in to the behavior patterns that get them the attention they want.  That tuning is carefully optimized to achieve maximum effect from each individualized recipient.

Meanwhile, media has virtually ignored its audiences.

But it's finally beginning to open its eyes and ears to them through personalization. I believe that personalization has the greatest potential to transform the media business.

But before we get to that, let's start with what's gone wrong in media that has made us blind to our audiences' cues.

In the world of print and broadcast, there was fundamentally no data about audience interests or reactions.  It was impossible to "read the room," because the room was pitch black.  If media leaders' eyes were closed, I'd be hard pressed to blame them; there was nothing to see.

As a result, there were two operating principles that made sense at the time, but which have since become outdated anachronisms.

First, that an editor should serve as oracle for what the audience desires (I call this the "Editor Fallacy"); and second, that content created in that vacuum of data should then be distributed as broadly as possible (let's call this the "Broadcast Assumption").

These two assumptions – even though they came from the print and broadcast legacy businesses – have errantly managed to drive the entire Web media mentality.

And the resulting misguided formula – across the board – has been Prophesize, Publish and Proliferate.

The big hope with this media Ouija Board has been that the guesses will be right, and that those who broadcast widely will then draw a big audience.  When the guesses miss the mark with audiences (no surprise there), publishers turn up the volume or amp up the sensationalism. To some degree, this is why the Huffington Post succeeds with its brash and blaring headlines, and it explains why, thanks to Henry, we've collectively Blodgetized Web 1.0 media.

But to make room for the new media model of the next 100 years, we need to let these old assumptions fall by the wayside.  The new vision is for media to start doing the work that each member of the audience already does; and that means deliberately selecting and contextualizing the media we each consume.

Putting it simply: media's great opportunity is to bring the right content to the right person at the right place and time.

And this is where things get very interesting.

Bring Me My Very Own World

The social transformation of the Web has already taken us half way down the road toward a personalized future.

We finally recognize that the Web is made up of people, and Facebook and others have made people and relationships the key "nodes and edges in the graph" of the Web, replacing pages and links.  The social Web is now people-centric; and, increasingly, social is becoming the operating system for the Web at large.  Most impressively, "what my friends like" is already proving to be a good starting point to predict "what I like," and so much of the Web is beginning to get at least a clue of how to serve us.

Despite this tremendous progress, however, when you go behind the scenes, the Web is still organized by data, not by people. Server data is affiliated with accounts; cookies are associated with Web browsers; and activity logs are tethered by IP addresses.

And yet, as the social revolution has proven, the real value of the transformation has been to stop looking at me as an IP address, a browser, or an account; and to start holistically realizing that I'm a person – I am me.

So, the great opportunity is to move from a Web of sites to "my" Web of me.

Media is at a critical transition point today, because we are about to completely redefine our sense of the audience. Starting now, the audience is no longer one massive opaque agglomeration. It's not a "them" or an "us"; it's a lot of individual "me's."  (This must-watch from Monty Python paints the picture.)

In this context, the Broadcast Assumption of content creators is completely out of touch with the 21st century zeitgeist.  It revolves around the played-out maxim of "create once, distribute everywhere," which made sense when audiences were opaque and distribution channels were just big dumb pipes.  But it totally ignores the "me's" in the audience – when it comes to both creation and distribution.

The bottom line, then, is that media experiences, which used to be one-size-fits-all, must now be customized so they're just for me.

In other words, the media experience of the future must take a cue from Facebook, and bring my world to me – regardless of where it originated. 

The Six Elements of Ultimate Digital Personalization

Social represents progress toward this vision of fully personalized media, but it's only one part of the game.

In my view, there are six key elements that contribute to ultimate digital personalization – and these elements are the basis for the ultimate success model in digital media:

  • It's social – What happens to people close to me is important, because these people are important to me.
  • It's curated – People aren't just content sources themselves; they're also curators. To know me is to know my tastemakers.
  • It's an experience, not just a stream –Newsfeeds and timelines are a meager start.  Twitter's 140-character format is great for insiders, but it's inscrutable for Grandpa. Personalized media should come in all formats – not just a feed.  And it will be more powerful (and more profitable) when it creates an immersive experience.
  • It's incredibly, incredibly smart about what it recommends, and what it doesn't – But better than today's Facebook and Twitter, it brings me the right content, not all content. I trust it to filter the world for me, and to highlight what's important to me out of billions of pieces of information.
  • It's self-refining – Speaking for myself, it would know to bring me news about digital media; about my company; about my friends' reviews of great restaurants in Seattle, LA, and New York; and, in the winter, a helpful article or two on snowboarding tips would be greatly appreciated. It would also turn down articles about Glenn Beck, and turn up the latest find from Brian Stelter. And, before you cry (or scream) "filter bubble," let's get it straight that this is what I do already.
  • It's not just the content that's personalized – It's the advertising, too. Today's version is very primitive: I go to a Web site once and its ads follow me around for weeks. But, instead, my demographics, interests and intent should all combine to inform what ads to show – and not show – me.

After considering these six elements as a whole, I'm most inspired (and encouraged) by Facebook, Twitter, AOL Editions, the recent Flipboard clones, NetFlix, and the potential of a new Siri-powered Apple TV.

Each of these demonstrates the central aspect of this new vision for media: bringing my world to me.

Data Is the Currency of Personalization

To be successful, we all need to be data companies – as data is the clear way to know what our audience wants.  Data is the currency of personalization, and so it is our best path to delighting our audience.

News sites should know by now what topics and stories to program for whom; and no sports site should serve a balanced home page when no sports fan likes all teams equally.

It's an approach that, of all companies, Yahoo! 'gets'– and for them it’s been paying huge dividends for a long time.   And so it should for the rest of us.

What this means for media is that it's not all about the content – instead, it's all about the audience.  And that means the nature of media has changed.

It's all about you. It's all about me.

That's the digital media future. And we need to start going there today – because audiences are asking (and even demanding) that we pay attention to them, that we really know them, as true individuals.

So, if you're a publisher, here's the challenge as you try to create meaningful content experiences today: Each member of your audience – no matter how vast it is – has to become the most important person in the world to you. Or, looking at it in a slightly different way, you have to become deeply involved and digitally intimate on a global scale each and every day.

Image credit: Shutterstock/almagami

Box: Mobile Adoption Is The Gateway Drug To The Cloud In The Enterprise

Posted: 08 Jan 2012 06:00 AM PST


Cloud storage platform Box (which you no longer have to refer to as as it now owns!), has seen incredible growth over the past year, both on the consumer and on enterprise side. Much of the growth has been driven by mobile, with the company seeing a 140% increase in mobile customer implementations each month in 2011, leading the total number of new mobile users to jump up by 171% monthly.

By year end 2011, Box’s total mobile user count reached 1.9 million, up 9 times over 2010. But nowhere has mobile’s impact been more felt than in the enterprise, where iOS and Android especially have driven business adoption of not just mobile apps, but the cloud in general.

In terms of mobile platform adoption, there were more than 1.2 million iOS app downloads in 2011, 462,000 on Android, 200,000 webOS downloads and 51,000 on PlayBook. (Yes, PlayBook!) These numbers include both consumer and enterprise growth combined, however.

But when Box tracks its enterprise sales, it tracks the reason for buying, and this past year, the company found there was a 30x increase in the number of enterprise deployments that were mobile-driven. So while mobile user growth may be up 9x, the sheer need for mobile connectivity is what’s driving its business. The mobile needs of the enterprise is affecting the company’s bottom line with Box seeing 3x revenue growth over the past year, as large organizations, like Procter & Gamble, McAfeee and AAA for example, signed up for the service. The enterprise customer base, meanwhile, grew by 2x and now includes 82% of the Fortune 500.

In the enterprise, iOS (iPhone, iPad) saw the most adoption, with 5 times year-over-year growth from 2010. Interestingly, Android is growing at a faster rate: 7 times year-over-year growth, even though it isn’t the largest mobile platform Box supports (iOS is, and more so the iPad).

Specific industry verticals are adopting Box at a faster rate than others, too, with the biggest jump coming from the Food and Beverage industry (up 7x), where Box counts Red Bull, Dole, PBR and others as customers. Because of the workflow-based nature of many of the industry’s tasks – like tracking product from the field to processing – this group was also big on the building custom applications on top of Box’s platform. Box now has over 130 apps integrated with its service and 5,000 developers.

Meanwhile, more traditional use cases involving knowledge worker and document sharing led to greater adoption in Financial Services (up 3.5x) and Health Care (up 3x) in 2011.

What’s interesting about these mobile adoption trends is the impact they’re having on cloud adoption. Says Box’s VP of Mobile, Matthew Self, “one of the big drivers we see for mobile adoption – and one of the big reasons why mobile deployment growth was actually higher than the user growth – has to do with the fact that enterprises are adopting cloud services because of mobile.”

“Mobile adoption is actually driving cloud adoption,” he says, “which isn’t totally obvious. But when you get to mobile, it isn’t about Microsoft anymore. Less than half of the computing endpoints in the world are Microsoft now…They’ve forced CIO’s to defect from Microsoft’s own entrenched postion, which is sort of bizarre. But it’s not like a CIO can say, ‘oh, I’ll just wait a year or two on mobile.’”

Ouch! (But totally right).

This exit from the Microsoft era is all the more evident in smaller to medium-sized businesses, which by their very nature, have had to be scrappy, turning to low-cost, easy-to-manage cloud services as an alternative to a traditional I.T. infrastructure. But the tide is turning. More enterprises are arriving at Box, which often represents their first or second toe dipped into the water of cloud computing. Maybe they use Salesforce, or some small cloud service on the side, but many are still Microsoft-based organizations running Exchange and Office.

Box then slides into place as a supplement to traditional systems like SharePoint then becomes the system of choice, leaving businesses to wonder why they still need the old system at all. In 2012, Box plans to help those folks cut the cord even more by implementing a new feature that will allow mobile users the ability to not only access, but also edit and comment on documents via the Box mobile app without needing another app supporting that file type installed on their mobile device. (For example, edit a spreadsheet on iOS with Apple’s Numbers app).

Self says Box’s move here is reflective of the move to more “cloud-augmented” apps, which he points out is already a big trend in consumer’s mobile computing behavior.

“These are apps where the bulk of the interesting work is happening in the cloud, not the mobile device at all,” he explains. For example, Apple’s Siri, where the voice recognition and processing work is happening in the cloud, and the iPhone is just recording what you say then playing back the results. Or Amazon’s Silk browser, which runs in the cloud, where only the UI (the presentation) is taking place on the mobile device. This too, mirrors Box’s plan for mobile: use HTML5 and web services for the business logic, while the UI/presentation layer renders through native code.

Combined with an increasing acceptance of using secure mobile apps (versus securing the whole mobile platform, e.g. RIM/BlackBerry Server solutions), it’s going to be easier than ever for enterprise customers to cut legacy connections altogether.

Selling Apple In October Wasn’t The Best Move, But Not Buying Google Was Worse

Posted: 07 Jan 2012 10:20 PM PST

Sagging Economy

MG Siegler argues that if you sold your Apple stock last October, right after the company’s Q4 2011 earnings report, you are an idiot and/or a moron. After all, Apple’s stock price closed at $398.62 on October 19, and it closed at $422.4 last Friday (a respectable 6 percent bump).

So selling your Apple stock that day was idiotic, right?
Maybe, maybe not.

Flamebait headlines aside, for all we know you could have been selling Apple stock you acquired back in 2000, in which case I daresay you were a true visionary. Of if you spent the money to buy your kids and spouse some nice Christmas gifts, or treated yourself to that plane ticket to Cambodia or whatever.

Reality is that, yes, Apple stock was staggeringly oversold on October 19, but I’ll be damned if I’m calling anyone an idiot over doing it if I don’t know what you did with the money.

In hindsight, it may have been smarter to hold on to it, but that’s the harsh reality of the volatile stock market for you. If the future could be accurately predicted, we could all make a killing.

Now, a decidedly smart move would have been buying Google the very same day you shouldn’t have sold AAPL. On October 19, 2011, GOOG closed at $580.7. Last Friday, stock price reached $652.73. That's a 12+ percent bump, or about double the gain Apple saw in the same timeframe.

Now, if you sold your Apple stock in October to stock up on Research In Motion or Nokia instead …

Why Bootstrapping Is Just As Over-Rated As Raising Venture Capital

Posted: 07 Jan 2012 07:06 PM PST


Editor's note: Contributor Ashkan Karbasfrooshan is the founder and CEO of WatchMojo.  Follow him @ashkan.

Entrepreneurship requires balancing unbridled optimism with delusional foolishness.  Most entrepreneurs are mocked and misunderstood until they are wildly successful, at which point the chorus changes from "good luck with that 'business', pal" to "I always believed in ya, buddy!"

Master of your Domain

There is an undeniable appeal to the notion of bootsrapping your company to success without venture capital. While bootstrapping has many advantages aside from control and ownership—such as being master of your domain and giving you the freedom to build your own Xanadu for all stakeholders—the reality is that the disadvantages may be greater. I speak from experience, having bootstrapped my own company, WatchMojo.

Yes, Mo Money = Mo Problems, but Money = Lifeline

Throwing money at problems is usually a short term fix.  By lacking capital, you're forced to tackle issues head-on and generate real solutions.

But with no safety net (let alone a warchest) on your balance sheet, you can't really pivot if your business is hitting a wall.  Even if you're doing well, money is your lifeline, so lacking it may starve even the most promising of bootstrapped companies, preventing you from investing in growth or supporting your clients.  So in a best case scenario, you're operating with one foot on the pedal with another in the grave.  You're basically in a perpetual state of fund-seeking, which is far more distracting than being in fundraising mode.

Mind you, we only hear about the wildly successful pivots such as Groupon, not about the hundreds of pivots that fail.  Undoubtedly, some of those earlier models may become successful with time; albeit not big enough by VC definitions.

Give equity to grow equity

Fundraising is an art, and in Silicon Valley, conventional wisdom suggests that you "raise as much money as you can".  I've heard both Marc Andreessen and Jason Calacanis say this and couldn't help but imagine that Netscape investor Jim Clark said that to Andreessen, whom Calacanis heard it from and who is now passing it on to the next crop of entrepreneurs.

Except raising as much money—or diluting—as much as one can is good for investors but bad for entrepreneurs. No wonder investors say that!  When you're wandering in the desert for days, you would give anything for that first glass of water, everything after that is a bonus.

But this shines a light on another reality of value creation: you have to ensure that others want to see you succeed and prosper, and the only way to do that is to hand out equity; as John Doerr says "no conflict, no interest".

Meet the Board: Your More Objective Bad Cop

Once you have investors on board, the board they assemble will come in handy when you need to make tough decisions.  Knowing that you have a regular evaluation and review of the business' operational and financial metrics helps you succeed, plain and simple.

It's also helpful for the CEO to be able to play good cop to the board's bad cop.  Indeed, many CEOs lack an objective sounding board and have an emotional attachment to an idea which not only wastes money but more importantly, the best years of your life.

So while too many companies chase the flavor of the month at the behest of their investors, the board will push you until your business takes off or you need to pivot.

Psychological Price Floor

While businesses should be valued on their financials, the historical valuation that investors place on your company may play a role in at least determining a floor price in a worst case scenario or a framework, at least.  Solely for purposes of illustration, let's look at how two recent exits may have gone down.

In the case of Next New Networks, the company had raised $25 million in venture funding from prominent investors including Goldman Sachs.  The company's high burn rate offset their success in generating views. Not having yet cracked the code to monetize their audience, investors were wary of adding more money.  They weren't however going to write off their investment altogether either, so they may have insisted on a purchase price equaling what they had put in the company regardless of the P&L.  Rumor has it that Google paid $25 million to allow preferred shareholders to recoup their investment.

In 5Min's case, it had momentum and growing revenues, so when AOL came knocking, it's possible that the sale price was a function of both its financials and its funding history.  Let's hypothesize that 5Min was generating $10 million in revenues; with a 3x multiple it was offered $30 million – too little for 5Min investors to accept.  But having raised $12.8 million over three rounds, it's perfectly plausible that the final $65 million acquisition price was driven more by a desire to secure a 5x return on the money invested.  Or, assume the VCs had 40% of the company, meaning a weighted valuation of $32 million in exchange for that $12.8 million; a 2x return on that valuation would yield approximately $65 million.  I am clearly making the numbers up, but you see how one's financing history may affect the final sales price.

Conversely, I have been told at least a dozen times that not having raised any venture capital values my company at a discount.

The Perception Problem: Red flag?

Moreover, not raising money from professional investors is—in all honesty—a potential red flag.  It's rare for an entrepreneur to run a business and spend millions of dollars without having any outside help.  When that is the case, it's a normal reaction to wonder: why?  Why hasn't outside money been raised?  It's unfair, but saying that it's never come up would be a lie.

No Sympathy Points

Ultimately, while you may score extra points for building a large business despite being bootstrapped, you don't actually score many points for running a small business if you have avoided venture capital, even though 99.9% of VC-funded companies wouldn't exist or last as long as yours if they didn't have VC funding to rely on.

The cliché is that it's not the destination that matters, but the journey.  Sure, maybe in Bullshitistan.  In the sports and business world, it's all about the outcome.  No one remembers the score, let alone how the teams played the game, they remember who won, even if it means giving in to greed and resorting to bad behavior.

When it's said and done, you can own 100% of a lemonade stand or 1% of Coca-Cola. While these are extreme polar opposites and a middle ground does exist, you have to understand that neither approach to building a business comes without its share of problems and drawbacks. In some ways, you build a business despite bootstrapping or raising VC, and not because of it.

Photo credit: Leonard John Matthews

SolarKindle Cover Is Walking On Sunshine (Whoaaa!)

Posted: 07 Jan 2012 06:52 PM PST


I’ve done my fair share of Kindle cover research, and to tell you the truth I wish this new cover from SolarFocus was around when I did. It’s the world’s first solar cover for the Kindle, with a solar panel built right in.

The SolarKindle promises “up to three months of unplugged Kindle use under normal sunlight environment.” In my experience that means near a window, which should be easy enough.

The cover also packs a reserve battery, which can either power an LED reading lamp (built right in) or offer extra reading time by feeding energy into the Kindle’s main battery. The LED lamp will run for 50 hours continuously before using the Kindle battery. Solar focus says that an hour under direct sunlight can offer 3 days of reading time.

It’s a bit rough on the eyes, but doesn’t seem to be bulky or obtrusive. I guess it’ll all come down to how you prioritize appearance and utility.

The SolarKindle goes on sale next week on January 15, and can be had for $79.99.

When You Have To Buy Their Love, You’ve Lost

Posted: 07 Jan 2012 04:24 PM PST

Screen Shot 2012-01-07 at 3.57.59 PM

Over at WindowsITPro, Paul Thurott outlines some details of Microsoft/Nokia’s (purported) marketing plans for Windows Phone in 2012. Amongst them: a $10 to $15 commission for retail sales people who sell Windows Phone handsets over Android or iOS.

In turn, John Gruber asks: “If this strategy was on the table, why didn't Microsoft start this a year ago?

Here’s why: because it’s an admission of failure.

Microsoft’s obstacle isn’t an easy one. When people walk into a phone store in search of a new smartphone, the sales dude generally offers up two choices: iPhone or Android. Meanwhile, the only people being handed Windows Phones are the ones who asked for them right off the bat.

Now, why is this? Is it because Apple and Google are coughing up piles of cash to get the sales reps to push their phones? Nope — while carriers and specific OEMs might offer spiffs for the sales of certain handsets, I can’t find evidence that Apple or Google themselves ever have. (I’ve been asking sales folks and carrier reps if they ever got a cut from either company all morning, and the only answer I got besides a bunch of “No way”s was a “Hah! If Apple paid me a special commission, I’d be rich.”)

It’s because, for the time being, Windows Phone just isn’t good enough.

That’s not to say that Windows Phone isn’t good, period — it is! But it also came out incredibly late in the game. When you’re the last one off the line, you have to do something so amazing, something so much better than what the folks leading the pack are doing, that you change the race entirely.

iOS did this by making smartphones simple, embracing the concept of “Apps” better than anyone else had before, and by riding that massive wave of momentum that comes from being Apple’s next shiny thing.

Android did it by becoming the anti-iPhone. One handset? “Heck no! Put it on all of them!” said Google. A tightly monitored, “walled garden” for an App Store? “Nope! Do what you want!” Google did everything that Apple would not (for better or worse), for the consumer and everyone else in the industry.

Windows Phone, meanwhile, has very few tricks that anyone could inarguably say that it does better. Oh, it does plenty of things — and it does them all differently. But different isn’t better; it’s just different.

When phone guys sell phones, they’re selling whatever they think will be the easiest sale and make their customer (and their managers) happiest. They do this not necessarily because they’re wonderful people who have deep compassion for everyone who sets foot in their store — but because dealing with angry people (and their returns) sucks. For now, this means iPhone or Android. Both do all of the snazzy things people see in the commercials. Both have a bazillion apps. Both have such massive user bases that few would ever look out into a crowd of people all with smartphones in hand and think “Crap. Did I pick the wrong phone?”

By offering up a chunk of change for each sale — especially when it seems that no one else is — Microsoft is essentially saying “Yeah, we know you don’t really want to sell this. We know that we don’t really have any killer features yet. How about some cash?”

Find your killer feature, Microsoft. Don’t just buy love.

The Road To CES: A Peek Inside Our Gadget Bags

Posted: 07 Jan 2012 03:34 PM PST


When you’re a small team going to cover the biggest electronics show in the world, every person has to act as a Swiss Army knife, able to fill any role at any time. This generally produces an incredibly heavy bag, packed with spare cameras, lenses, batteries, cords, and of course a laptop. Luckily for us, our live-camera approach to covering the show takes a bit of that burden off of our sagging shoulders now, but old habits die hard and it’s good to be prepared just in case.

Aren’t you curious what’s filling your favorite bloggers’ bags to bursting? We’ve rounded up the items we’ll be taking to CES, arrayed them, and described them for your benefit. Take a look.

Matt Burns

If computer bags were living things, I would entrust the Ogio Hip Hop messenger bag with my kids and Netflix password. It’s that good and has been my loyal partner to countless tradeshows and events. It’s not a very large bag so it takes a bit of finagling to fit everything including a Late 2010 15-inch MacBook Pro and a Canon 60D that I rarely use. The Canon S95 is my go-to walkaround camera. However, I lug the 60D around for its telephoto lens and 1080p video mode. A Zoom H1 mic (and hot shoe mount) assists the 60D and also works great for impromptu interviews.

More often than not batteries die throughout the day. I use a Verizon iPad for web browsing and Twitter rather than firing up the Core i7 MBP for those simple tasks. Also, my grandmother-in-law gave me a solar powered USB battery pack last year. I think she got it from QVC. I never use the solar part, but I still love it. It features selectable voltage, a little flashlight and two USB ports for recharging gadgets. Best of all, it has a huge capacity and recharges over USB.

New this year is a Verizon SCH-LC11 4G Hotspot that will hopefully work deep within the Las Vegas Convention Center. I’ll also be sporting a WiMM One watch. This watch was clearly inspired by the iPad Nano. The screen is fantastic and designed to function as a watch first rather than a media device with a clock app. It’s also slightly smaller than an iPad nano, allowing it to fit a lot better on my girly wrists. Plus, it connects to your phone via Bluetooth for updates and features several apps including a pre-paid Starbucks card. It’s perfect for CES.

Lastly, lip balm and gum. Spending a week in Vegas without lip balm is akin to the Amazon with only one pair of socks.

Jordan Crook

Even though I’m the only female in the TechCrunch Gadgets crew, I’ll still likely be packing lighter than most of my male counterparts. This is partially because I don’t actually have that much stuff, and partially because I will be stealing their stuff throughout the course of the show.

What I do bring, however, will be coddled sweetly by the Chrome Krakow bag which I reviewed just a few months ago. It’s easy to get stuff in and out of this bag, which is pretty crucial at a place where you’re just walking.. and walking.. and walking..

Contents will include my trusty 13-inch MacBook Pro, a hand-me-down Olympus PEN EPL-1 micro four-thirds that was given to me by Biggs, a Sony Tablet S (review unit) for taking notes in any situation where I’ll be standing, and a bunch of phones.

My new iPhone 4S will, of course, be in my pocket where it belongs, but since mobile is predominantly my beat I like to have at least one model for each of our big three operating systems. That said, I’ll probably bring the LG Nitro HD to represent Android since I can use it as a hotspot and it’s quick like lightning (read: AT&T 4G LTE). On the Windows front, I’ll be sporting a Samsung Focus Flash because it’s small and comfortable.

The usual bevy of chargers and USB cords will of course be in tow, and I’ll likely be jacking Matt’s connection from his new Verizon SCH-LC11 4G Hotspot if the Nitro HD lets me down.

Last but certainly not least (and possibly most important) are my new Nike kicks, which will be just as crucial as the Krakow while I’m walking… and walking… and walking…

John Biggs

I try to carry a different bag every time I travel. This one is called the Powerbag Instant Messenger and it has a little battery in it for charging gadgets. There is an iPhone cable and a USB jack. I always run out of juice half way through the day at these shows so I’m bringing this bag, another external battery that I usually connect to my phone and carry in my pocket during the second half of the day, and a huge laptop back-up battery, not shown.

I also have a 60D there with a 50mm lens, a macro zoom, and a huge lens we rented from It’s a 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS and it weighs 3 pounds.

Those cables are a collection I’ve gathered over the years. I always bring an external Ethernet jack for the MacBook Air (also not pictured) and an Ethernet cable. I have two Micro USB cables, an iPad/iPhone cable, and a few small chargers. I also have a nice mic in that little black bag there as well as a lav mic for recording in a pinch. Those batteries are in there for no good reason – I have nothing that uses them, but I bought them once and they transfer from bag to bag with me.

I’ve also got my Bose headphones there. I know there are better ones out there but these last a long time, are very comfortable over long periods, and I’m just used to them. I have a Droid Global in there, a Google Nexus, and a Lumia 710. I also have a paper magazine because I hate not having anything to do during take-off and landing. I always make sure to have “No Surprises” by Radiohead on my phone. It’s a talismanic song I that I play when we cross the Rockies and it gets turbulent.

Chris Velazco

I always make it a point to travel light, but considering this is my first CES, I wanted to make sure all of my bases were covered.

These days I use the Ogio Squadron RSS backpack, which I first starting playing with during Bag Week. I’m still not entirely sold on the white/gold color scheme, but my inner pack rat loves all the space it affords me.

I’ll be carrying my usual load, which consists of my work-issue 15-inch MacBook Pro for all the heavy lifting and my AT&T iPad 2 for everything else. As one of the team’s resident mobile nerds, I bring my iPhone 4S and Galaxy Nexus everywhere, but that’s not all I’ve got for connectivity. I’ve also got mobile hotspots from AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint, just to be safe.

Of course since I’m an idiot, I forgot to take a few things out ofthe bag before I took the picture. You’ll just have to take me at my word when I say there’s a Ziploc bag full of USB cables and AC adapters tucked away in there, along with a Logitech M705 Marathon Mouse. Also not pictured is my go-to camera, the Panasonic GF2, for possibly obvious reasons.

And of course, who could forget the miscellaneous bits: a tin of Altoids (for the inevitable coffee breath), a tube of Burt’s Bees for my fragile lips, and a sketchbook for quick notes. Now all I need is to remember to bring the bag with me as I walk out the door, and I should be all set.

Devin Coldewey

I’m traveling light this year. Normally I’d bring a spare camera, two other lenses, and probably at least two video cameras just in case, plus a hard drive for photo storage. But with our focus on live video (which we’ll also be recording and snipping up), all that stuff isn’t quite as necessary.

So I’ve got my old Canon XSi (due for replacement, either with a T3i or X-Pro1) with the excellent 35mm f/2 on there, great for product shots though a little narrow for environments. We rented a nice fat zoom for press conferences, but I’m not carrying that thing around unless absolutely necessary. I’ll also be testing out a Panasonic GX-1 at the show (review afterwards), which will serve as a spare video device.

There’s a MacBook Air fully loaded, with plenty of space on its SSD for photos, so an external drive wasn’t necessary. Besides, that orange USB stick is 64 gigs. The silver one is waterproof, and so is my phone, in case I fall into the canals at the Venetian. I’m bringing a DS with the latest Layton in it and a nice light SF novel for the plane and down times. Then a pen a notebook from Muji for the occasional scribble. And a switchblade for the snitches. All this will go in the spacious and gadget-oriented Booq Mamba Shift.

Clearing up luggage space means I can also bring a little Seattle to Vegas, in the form of some decent coffee. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the truth is that the coffee in Vegas isn’t very good, and a damn fine cup in the morning is a great way to start the day. So I’m bringing my Porlex hand burr grinder, a single-serving french press, and a freshly-roasted batch of Cafe Ladro’s darkest. You can come to my room and have some, but the only payment I take is trade secrets.

Just A Friendly Reminder: If You Sold Your Apple Stock In October, You Were, In Fact, An Idiot

Posted: 07 Jan 2012 03:21 PM PST

Screen Shot 2012-01-07 at 3.18.16 PM

On October 19 of last year I wrote a post entitled: If You Sold Your Apple Stock Today, You’re An Idiot. Because their Q4 numbers missed Wall Street expectations, Apple’s stock dropped over 5 percent on that day, to close below $400-a-share after hitting an all-time high just days before. My argument was that it was the Wall Street expectations that were horribly flawed, not Apple’s actual performance. And the stock would recover quickly as a result leading up to their Q1 earnings, which even Apple was predicting would be a blow out.

Reading the comments on that post — which I love to do — you’d think I was saying something insane. When the stock fell to $363 right after Thanksgiving, a few remembered the post and once again pointed out the irrational insanity of this fanboy.  But then a funny thing happened yesterday. Apple’s stock closed at a new all-time high.

So yes, if you sold your stock on October 19, you were, in fact, a moron. We’re now two and a half weeks away from Apple’s Q1 earnings — and again, all indications are that they’re going to be massive. Apple CEO Tim Cook is already on record predicting record iPhone and iPad sales, and those prediction both seem solid right now. The real question is by how much will they be records?

Apple’s previous record for iPhone sales was 20.24 million in Q3 2011. If Verizon’s numbers are any indication, it looks like Q1 could see total iPhone sales north of 30 million — and possibly well north. Given that the iPhone is by far the most important product to Apple’s bottom line these days, that could mean not only the first $30 billion quarter in company history — but the first $40 billion quarter as well.

Do those sound like numbers for a stock you should have sold because analysts failed to do their homework? No they do not.

Of course, hindsight is 20-20 — except that we wrote about all of this on October 18, the day before the sell-off.

For a great explantion of why professional Wall Street analysts are so often off the mark when it comes to quarterly predictions, be sure to read this post by Asymco’s Horace Dediu. Here’s the main point:

Analysts have an incentive to put forth a version of the future that supports their call on the stock. Bloggers have an incentive to put forth the most accurate version of the future. By taking the prediction out of the picture, accuracy in describing the future improves.

Analysts often lower their own numbers to ensure their calls are not only right, but pleasantly surprise investors. That explains the past decade of Wall Street being wildly inaccurate with regard to Apple. Apple has been killing it, so when analysts think they’re being cutely conservative to make their calls look good, they’re actually being way too conservative. Except for last quarter (Q4 2011), where they simply missed what was happening due to the shift of the iPhone introduction from Q3 to Q4 (in other words, instead of Q4 sales exploding as was the case in the past, Q1 sales were going to). They got lazy and screwed the pooch.

But this quarter should be a return to form. Burned by last quarter, some analysts may even be a bit more conservative than usual. But Apple’s numbers will not be. And that’s exactly why it was the wrong call to sell your Apple stock in October. But on the flip side, if you bought the stock at the $360 price, you’re really happy right now.

I would have been in that boat were in not for this column preventing me from being conflicted in such a way. The things I do for TechCrunch…

How To Create An Early-Stage Pitch Deck For Investors

Posted: 07 Jan 2012 01:05 PM PST


This is a guest post by Ryan Spoon (@ryanspoon), a principal at Polaris Ventures. Read more about Ryan on his blog at

When raising capital, a combination of your company’s product, vision, team and execution are what ultimately attract investment. And while the pitch deck is ultimately less important than vision and product, it exists to convey both elements and get investors hungry for more.

Like other investors, I come across hundreds of pitches each month — some in person, others in email; some as PowerPoints, and others as full-fledged business plans. Your goal is to craft a deck that is both:

- crisp: succinct enough that it is easily digestible (in person, email, etc)

- and complete: thorough enough that it conveys the big vision and current traction

I looked back on many of the pitches I reviewed over the last couple years (good and bad) and compared it to public pitch decks of familiar, successful companies like Airbnb, Foursquare, and Mint. The output is this guide to creating an early-stage pitch deck. It’s intended for companies seeking seed and series A investments.

There are five core themes followed by a suggested structure:

1. Have a great one-liner
2. Know your audience
3. Keep it to 10-15 slides
4. Beware of the demo
5. Expect the deck to be shared

And remember: it’s the story and the conversation that is important – not the imagery and colors. If you can convey the passion that drives you (and your users / customers!), you will have created a powerful pitch deck.

(Founder Stories) ZocDoc’s Massoumi: A Bad Flight & Terrible Customer Service Created ZocDoc

Posted: 07 Jan 2012 01:00 PM PST

Founder Stories

In 2007 Cyrus Massoumi ruptured his eardrum on a flight to New York and turned his distasteful experience of trying to track down a physician into ZocDoc – a service that enables customers to quickly book appointments with doctors and dentists online. In a relatively short time, his streamlined offering has attracted considerable interest from both consumers and investors. Supported by doctors who pay a fee to be listed on the site, ZocDoc is now available in more than a dozen United States markets, claims 200+ employees and has tallied $95 million in funding.

In this episode of Founder Stories, ZocDoc’s CEO and co-founder Cyrus Massoumi tells host, Chris Dixon how ZocDoc was built.

Rewinding to ZocDoc’s origins, Massoumi says after landing in Manhattan with one healthy ear, it took him four days to secure the services of a medical professional. He search was hindered by the substandard list of doctors compiled by his insurance company – so inadequate were the choices that “one doctor was actually deceased” he says.

Disgusted with the status quo, Massoumi rounded up two co-founders and went to work building something better, but tells Dixon those early days weren’t easy. ”We had no website, I was literally taking a power point page and walking into these doctors offices and trying to convince them that online booking was the future of healthcare.” He continues, ”in one case I literally sat in a waiting room of an office for six hours and then I got three dentists to sign on.”

After shaking hands and iterating for “two-and-a-half years” Massoumi says “everything clicked and we have been expanding ever since.”  He tells Dixon patients now have access to “40 different specialties” and “probably north of 6-million maybe even approaching 7-million available [doctor] appointments over the next 90-days.”

Massoumi shares plenty more insights in this video, so be sure to watch the entire episode to hear them all.

Past Founder Stories episodes featuring leaders of TripAdvisor, Charity: Water, Bump, Redditt, and may other start-ups are here.

Episode II of this interview is coming up.

First Pictures Of OLPC’s XO-3 Tablet Break Cover

Posted: 07 Jan 2012 11:43 AM PST


Last night we heard that the One Laptop Per Child program would be showing off its long-awaited XO-3 tablet at CES. We’ll be getting a hands-on then, but they were kind enough to send out a couple pictures of the device this morning, and they seem worth sharing.

As you may recall, the tablet has an 8″ screen, so with that for scale, it looks to be about three quarters of an inch thick. The bright green material appears to be silicone, and the rest of the construction will be plastic. The project’s founder, Nicholas Negroponte, wanted the device to be “indestructible,” and it certainly doesn’t look dainty, but it also doesn’t appear to be waterproof — though the front part could certainly be water-resistant.

The silicone case is nice, and likely produces the indestructibility Negroponte covets. It’s not simply a box-top; you can see in the picture above (high resolution versions below) that one side has a curved cut in it; this will allow the user to choose whether the ports on the top are exposed or protected. Useful for all manner of things, I’m sure. The pattern on it looks like a solar cell, but it seems unlikely that an array of any efficiency could be shipped for as low a price as they’d want.

Lastly there are the ports themselves: power, full-size USB (good for accessories), two ports which are likely audio out and in (or possibly both out, I can see that being a requested feature), and something that looks like a MicroSD slot, though I can’t be sure. There also appears to be a front-facing camera at the top.

We’ll have more info at CES or as OLPC sends it our way.

Scheming Intentions

Posted: 07 Jan 2012 11:11 AM PST


From Vannevar Bush to PageRank, the World Wide Web was built on hypertext, the notion that any morsel of information can link to any other. But that was always only a dream, and a rapidly-dissipating one of late.

Nowadays even Web links are likely to terminate at warnings, paywalls or registration screens. Anil Dash rages that “Facebook is gaslighting the Web” with its treatment of content outside Facebook. Jon Mitchell and Jamie Zawinski complain that Google Plus will “mess up the Internet” for its treatment of content outside Google+ff (and Zawinski adds “they just ripped off this model from Tumblr.”) Google’s Tim Bray, in turn, is irate about single-page “hash-bang” JavaScript sites breaking the web.

Meanwhile, six months ago, according to Flurry, time spent using mobile apps surpassed web consumption. You can link out of apps easily enough — clicking on a phone number to open a dialer, or a hyperlink to open a Web page — but it’s hard to reliably link in to an app.

Oh, the infrastructure is there, as Sarah Perez pointed out last week in “A Web Of Apps.” In theory, Android’s Intents, and Apple’s Custom URL Schemes allow apps to open each other and pass information to one another. But it’s still very difficult and frustrating to use them for inter-app communication.

The main reason for this is that neither Apple or Google publishes the URL schemes / intent filters used by any given app. I find this totally bewildering. They already have all the information: it’s bundled with every App Store / Android Market app submission, in their Info.plist and AndroidManifest.xml files, respectively. All they would need to do is provide a searchable web interface, or add that info in a “For Developers” tab within the App Store or Android Market.

There’s really no reason for them not to do this. Both already maintain app namespaces. Both could easily add “private/public” flags for app developers who don’t want their information published. But they can’t be bothered — so instead we have to rely on haphazard, incomplete, out-of-date third-party sites like Akosma and OneMillionAppSchemes for iOS and OpenIntents for Android. (Bizarrely, Google actually chose OpenIntents for their Summer of Code program last year, rather than just publishing the information they already have.)

If we actually had a reliable source of app intent/scheme bindings, then a whole lot of interesting possibilities would arise. Instead of silently failing when an app tries to call up a recipient app that isn’t installed, the OS could request to download and install it. You could have apps rely on each other, so that downloading and installing one implies automatically downloading and installing its prerequisite building-block sub-apps.

Most of all, you’d be able to reliably link to and from other apps, almost as if they were web sites. It would be so easy to do — yet Apple and Google have both let this possibility languish untouched for years. I’m on record as predicting that HTML5 apps will take over from native apps in a couple years’ time. The ability to link to and from them — in other words, to partially restore the hypertext dream — isn’t the main reason why, but it’s definitely a contributing factor.

Image credit: Sébastien Gelé, Flickr.

WindRiver Brings Overlapping App Windows To Android

Posted: 07 Jan 2012 10:00 AM PST


Android users may soon be able to work with multiple app windows if an Intel-owned company called Wind River has anything to say about it. The company has recently announced they have worked up a way to implement overlapping application windows in Android, and the results look pretty slick.

The multi-window UI is slightly reminiscent of Motorola’s Webtop concept, except without the need to purchase additional hardware to make it work. The revamped app display system is part of what Wind River calls their “User Experience” module, which also include tweaks for super-fast booting. Other software modules in the series include the Connectivity (DLNA and SyncML support) and Medical (support for Bluetooth-enabled medical equipment), and Wind River ultimately hopes to sell them to device vendors for inclusion in their set of Android tweaks.

Quick application switchers like the one baked into Ice Cream Sandwich work well enough for basic multitasking, but I’d love to see this sort of functionality pop up on a tablet sooner rather than later. With tablets quickly taking over certain market niches, a more familiar usage experience could help Android tabs pick up steam among consumers considering ditching full-blown PCs and notebooks for light daily use.

The wait could take a while though — as you could probably tell from the image Wind River provided, the UI looks fine on Cupcake (or whatever version that is), though it’s unknown how much work it’ll take to get it running on more modern Android versions.

Gillmor Gang 01.07.12 (TCTV)

Posted: 07 Jan 2012 10:00 AM PST

Gillmore Gang test pattern

The Gillmor Gang — Danny Sullivan, Robert Scoble, John Taschek, Kevin Marks, and Steve Gillmor — kicked off the New Year in CES style. That’s CES as in Apple-Free, last Microsoft keynote, All TV all the time, Super Cab Lines Vegas stays in Vegas. Both @dannysullivan and @scobleizer spent a great deal of time handicapping the race for control of what used to be called the TV set.

These days I’m not so sure, as Apple’s AirPlay could just as easily come in a controller-sized package (read iPhone) as a 100-inch box. The real battle is over how to find something decent to watch, and the big question is whether Google will figure out how to get network shows onto its service or if Amazon will embrace and extend Apple TV.

@stevegillmor, @dannysullivan, @scobleizer, @jtaschek, @kevinmarks

Produced and directed by Tina CHase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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