Saturday, July 5, 2014

Follow-Up On My Previous Predictions About The Miami Heat

Why didn't they 4-Peat? D-Wade got injured and the role-players got old.

And, as far as Lebron averaging a triple-double, he's not that type of player. He's too focused on scoring, and he either scores and rebounds or scores and dishes out assists. He doesn't do both. He has the talent to average a triple-double, but not the mentality to.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Black in America 4: The New Promised Land - Silicon Valley (My Story)

A couple of weeks ago, CNN broadcast the fourth episode of Black in America, its ongoing series on the black experience in modern times. This episode was of particular interest to me because of its focus on the opportunities available to African-American technology entrepreneurs in their quest to invade The New Promised Land - Silicon Valley and the race issue involved. The show was centered around the founding of the NewMe Accelerator; the first start-up accelerator in Silicon Valley that is strictly for businesses that are founded by the underrepresented in technology. I am one of those underrepresented technology entrepreneurs.

First and foremost, I'd like to applaud and congratulate NewMe's founders, Angela Benton and Wayne Sutton for their courage, foresight and initiative. These two are Silicon Valley "outsiders" who've opened the floodgates of opportunity for minorities in tech. Over the years, there have been minorities who've futilely ventured west in search of simply the opportunity for fame and fortune, but six years after Y Combinator's launch in 2005, an accelerator specifically for the under-served in Silicon Valley was long overdue. Now we have one.

Is there a problem with race in Silicon Valley? I believe so. I've heard people say there aren't enough black tech entrepreneurs, the only color that matters is (money) green, etc., etc. Yet my story rings to the contrary.

I ventured west after struggling with my start-up in the Washington, DC metro area for four years, beginning in 2003. For those who don't know, D.C. has been a terrible place to launch a start-up after the dot-com bust. There's a plethora of talent in the nation's capital (well respected universities in the region and some excellent programmers), however the pervasive mindset is focused on obtaining your top-secret clearance and starting or working for a company that bids on consulting contracts with the government. They call them "Beltway Bandits". Additionally, the venture capital community is not friendly toward seed and early stage ventures.

LaunchBox Digital launched an incubator in DC back in 2007. They've since relocated to Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. Follow their lead and move to a tech hub. DC is not the place for a start-up.  But, I digress.

My co-founder and I parted ways after the first year. He hadn't invested any real money, just sweat equity, was living with me for free and, honestly, was a self-taught programmer in way over his head. I spent entirely too much time explaining technical concepts to him like lazy instantiation. Eventually, I had to kick him out.

A Java development offer took me to Silicon Valley in 2007. I decided to use the opportunity to raise money for my company. Years earlier, I'd sold my townhouse to reduce expenses and eventually I'd depleted my savings all in a effort to follow my passion and secure a better future for me and my family. When I landed at the San Francisco International Airport, I had a business plan that was initially written by Funding Post in 2003 and revised/refined over 4 years, working software which by that time I'd received a licensing offer for from a larger software vendor in the market I was targeting and Clarence Wooten - the only African-American dot-com millionaire I'm aware of - as my business adviser.

Clarence and I first met at a Washington Wizards basketball game in 2001. After selling his start-up, ImageCafe, in 1999 he'd become a celebrity in the DC tech scene. I recognized him, introduced myself and told him I had some ideas I'd like to run by him. He told me to stop by his office. At the time, I was living the life as an independent Java consultant on enterprise projects for clients like Deutsche Bank (Manhattan), Fannie Mae (DC Metro) and Freddie Mac (DC Metro) $95/hr, so it would be a couple of years before I stopped by the office. Fortunately, he recognized me.

When Clarence and I finally did reconnect, my co-founder and I had been at it for several months. The first thing I said to Clarence was, "I want to tell you I have the utmost respect for what you accomplished, because this is not an easy task." As he walked around from behind his desk to greet me he replied, "It's a MONUMENTAL task. And, people just don't understand unless they've been through it." Truer words have never been spoken. He had recently co-founded Wirespan Communications, Inc.

Now in Palo Alto, my business plan included the concept and financials for three products targeting the same market. Two of the products were B2B and one was B2C; MULTIPLE REVENUE STREAMS.

I'd been pounding the pavement from New York to Chicago to San Francisco at industry trade shows the past four years, and had connections with established industry vendors for multiple routes to market. One technology vendor had made me a licensing offer of a few hundred thousand dollars plus royalties for our flagship product. A couple of years after that, in 2006, another technology vendor had invited me to interview for their CTO position.

The business plan had been reviewed by my accounting firm: I'm dressed in a suit. I've looked at these issues from all angles. The tech was cutting-edge at the time; tablet-pc's, Adobe Flex/Air, Ruby on Rails. This was Silicon Valley. I'm a developer. I know my stuff. I was referred by a dot-com millionaire.  I'm articulate and like-able. Funding was a formality. Or, so I thought.

The truth is, race is an issue in Silicon Valley, a big issue and not only with the majority, but also with elitist minorities in power. I was an African-American software entrepreneur in The New Promised Land with working software, references and a business plan showing a lot of green. I've been following the tech industry since being hired by America Online, prior to graduation in '96, and have never heard of an entrepreneur looking to launch three products for the same market. Oddly enough, I was told to focus on only one product. A Caucasian or Asian coming to the table with what I had would've had millions in funding in less than 30 days. I returned to the D.C. metro area without funding. Promises broken.

However, I'm a true entrepreneur. It's a monumental task, persistence is key and when you're onto something, you feel it in your gut. I continued developing the second product; an instructional app with streaming video on the wireless tablet. I signed on a partner I'd been targeting for years; one who made a significant investment, had industry knowledge and substantial connections - amazing how when you add video to something, suddenly everyone gets it. I hired a developer that I met while he was presenting at the DC Area Flex User's Group. And, I headed back west a year later, with two software products to demonstrate, looking to speak to different people. I'd also added three additional products to the business plan, making it a total of six for the same industry. Oh...and I had my new co-founder schedule a meeting with Ted Leonsis back in the D.C. area for when I returned. But, when I returned, all hell broke loose; jealousy, greed, deception, betrayal, intimidation...The Pirates of Silicon Valley.

Race is definitely an issue in The New Promised Land.

UPDATE 12/2/11
Since I began writing this post, there's been a significant resurgence in the D.C. tech scene: STEVE CASE, TED LEONSIS CREATE $450 MILLION FUND TO AID DC STARTUPS 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ideas are now worth $150K

Every Y Combinator startup is now being offered a $150K convertible note by the Start Fund. Admittance to Y Combinator is based solely on the idea and an in-person interview according the to application.

It took the commercial software industry 35+ years to figure it out, but I'm glad to see somebody FINALLY gets it. Profitable ideas - the only ones that matter - are difficult to come up with and do have significant value. See my previous post

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Twitter etiquette

Twitter is a social network. And, as in all social situations, etiquette applies. Think of your tweets as your contribution to a brainstorming session being held by your followers. Be courteous, and don't dominate the conversation by constantly injecting your thoughts and opinions with little or no pause. Otherwise, your thoughts and opinions - read tweets - may no longer be desired.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Execution is easy. (Profitable) Ideas are hard.

Conventional wisdom in the software industry states that investors invest in people rather than ideas. For as long as anyone can remember, this approach has been based on the belief that the success of the venture is primarily dependent on the determination and perseverance of the team executing the idea rather than the strength of the idea/vision itself. I, however, have asserted the opposite for years; execution is easy, but it is extremely difficult to come up with the type of idea that all investors desire, one that will result in significant and/or substainable profits.

The tech industry's history is littered with failed products from both startups and industry giants alike; most notable of late are the Google Wave and Microsoft Kin products. Each of these launches was backed by an industry giant and executed by an experienced, rock-star team with access to virtually infinite financial and technical resources. So, it is extremely difficult to understand how anyone could argue these products did not gain traction because of poor execution. I charge, in each case, the execution could not have been any better. The products were simply based on ideas that could not be monetized.

The failures of the dotcom bust - govWorks,, etc. - can also be attributed to product ideas/visions that were not solid. A simple way to confirm this is to count the number of failed dotcom products that have reappeared during Web 2.0. If the idea hasn't been recycled with a new team and/or implementation, it must have sucked to begin with.

Let's take a look at the other end of the spectrum, Facebook for example. According to the trailer for the movie about the founding of the company, The Social Network, the idea at the heart of the phenomena was, "taking the entire social experience of college (Harvard) and putting it online." The site then apparently received 22,000 hits in its first two hours, expanded to Stanford, Columbia and Yale, moved to Silicon Valley, and had over 1,000,000 users in less than twelve months all without venture capital funding. This product launch was initially backed by no one significant, and executed by inexperienced, undergraduate dropouts with access to minimal resources. Yet, Facebook, the website, has been a huge success, simply because it was based on a solid idea.

In the 80's, Microsoft along with IBM brought a cheaper computer to market. In the 90's, Google built a better search engine. After the millennium, Facebook built a more efficient way for people to interact with their social network. In each case, the product was successfully launched by a relatively inexperienced team in its early 20's, and the product was perceived to be significantly "better" than competitive products or methods in at least one critical category; price, performance or ease of use.

History has shown, time and time again, in general, "Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door." The formula appears to be that the required strength of the management team is inversely proportional to the strength of the idea. For example - and I know this is ridiculous - if I created a "Fountain of Youth" application - can we agree that EVERYONE is seeking the fountain of youth - how strong would the management team truly need to be? Conversely, if I created something that it turned out very few people wanted, the team MUST consist of superstars in order to find a way to make it successful. And, we've already proven a superstar team doesn't guarantee success.

Giving the people what they want (execution), is not rocket science. Neither is figuring out what potential users will find of value (idea), but the latter sure is hard.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What the mobile app explosion has really showed us...the browser's days as the star of the Internet are numbered

Mobile applications, or "apps", are not new. They've been available, in various forms, for mobile phones since the 90's. I remember discussions about the "burgeoning" market for mobile phone software with my technical lead back in 1998. We both were very excited about the potential of this new platform.

In a former life, I was an avid fan of the Palm Treo. I remember installing several productivity applications on various occasions; Pocket Quicken to better track my finances, software that tracked both my workouts and caloric intake, specialized browsers, etc. Some of these apps were quite useful, others weren't. At the time apps were cool, but dealing with them was a pain, so browser based software ruled.

Then in the early 2000's, Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) hit the market promising, "The best of the desktop, meets the best of the web." It was now possible to develop desktop quality software that provided an optimal user experience, but was easily administered like a browser-based application; no installation disks, centrally managed updates, connected to the 'net using Internet protocols, etc. And, over the years, RIAs have made some traction on the desktop, but they've really taken off on mobile apps.

According to the Silicon Alley Insiderfew cellphone users access the mobile Internet. This is understandable due to the user experience that mobile devices provide as a software platform. Please don't misunderstand me, mobile devices are definitely getting better all-around, but the limited screen real estate makes it difficult to provide information to the user in an optimal fashion. Using a web browser makes it worse.

The same logic applies to software for tablet computers. As evidenced by the iPad, another mobile platform, tablets will access services on the network primarily using apps, not the web browser.

In my opinion, as mobile computing continues to proliferate and make the traditional desktop computer a highly specialized product, see my previous post, the web browser, commercialized by Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark of Netscape fame, will continue to be used for its initial intention, to browse information on the web. Yet, it is experiencing its last hoorah as a requirement to access interactive services on the Internet. There's an app for that.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Goodbye Desktop Computer, It Was Fun While It Lasted

Invented and commercialized by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, founders of Apple Computer Inc., the personal computer, the beloved desktop version, exploded on the scene in 1976. Some of you may be old enough to remember that Time magazine named the desktop computer "Man of the Year" in 1982, establishing it as a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

But, on April 3, 2010 the "inadequate police" raided the desktop computer's celebration, which had lasted 34 years, and told everyone it was time to disperse. That was the day Apple Computer Inc., ironically, launched tablet computing to the forefront of consumer consciousness with the iPad. And, although you may feel that my dismissal of the beloved desktop is premature, my theory is fully rooted in historical the telecommunications industry.

As you well know, technology tends to get smaller, faster and cheaper over time. But, the Achilles heel of the desktop computer is not its performance, nor its price, nor its portability. The Achilles heel of the desktop computer is its lack of mobility. 

Remember corded telephones, so near and dear to the Baby Boomer and preceding generations? Today they have largely been replaced in the home by the cordless handheld; a mobile device that provides the required functionality at the user's chosen location within the home, with an acceptable user-experience, for essentially the same price. Wow...sound familiar.

Now, an obscenely large, or dual display configuration will always be desired. Therefore, I envision tablets will eventually have docking capabilities, as laptops do, to satisfy these requirements. But, netbooks were developed because laptops fell short in certain situations, and tablets were developed because neither laptops, nor netbooks hit the mark. They both are simply portable, not mobile. You can move a laptop or netbook from one place to another, but as for using them while  in transit, or while standing, it's not going to happen. And, that my friends is true freedom.

So, Time magazine's 1982 "Man of the Year", get your business in order. We haven't seen the last of you or your close buddies. But...the party is over.