Guest Author | March 7th, 2014
This is a guest post by FounderDating Hardware MD Aren Kaser. He is CEO/Cofounder of Igor Institute, as well as an adjunct professor at Seattle University.
The 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival and Create Events and Exhibitions are upon us. This year, talks, workshops, and events around internet of things devices, the future of wearables, new prototyping technologies, product design and engineering, and health related hardware will take center stage. But the chaos of SXSW can be overwhelming, and with all that’s happening, how do you choose what to do and where to go? Here’s my list of what you definitely shouldn’t miss if you’re into hardware. To see the entire selection of hardware offerings at SXSW visit my daily interactive schedule here.
1. The Future of Biometrics
Saturday 3/8 - 9:30AM – 60 minutes – Hyatt Regency Austin – Texas Ballroom 1-4
This talk is a must for those interested in how the sensor driven future will be used for security and personal identity along with the biometric tracking we are becoming accustomed to today.
2. SXSW Accelerator: Wearable Technologies
Saturday 3/8 - 11:00AM and 12:30 PM – 60 minutes – Hilton Austin Downtown – Salon D
Check out what these fascinating wearable folks are doing: Bionym, Kiwi Wearable Technologies, Pauline van Dongen, and Skully Helmets.
3. Wearable Computing: Now, Near & Next Generation
Saturday 3/8 - 5:00PM – 60 minutes – Hyatt Regency Austin – Texas Ballroom 1-4
Great panel of folks getting into the discussion around integrated wearable technology and how its incorporation into our everyday lives depends on more than just the data and experiences it provides.
4. Hardware Isn’t Hard, It’s Complicated
Sunday 3/9 - 11:00 AM – 150 minutes – AT&T Conference Center – Classroom 202
A workshop for the hardware entrepreneur who has never taken a product to market, or even the seasoned product manager who wants a refresh on bringing devices from ideation to production.
5. Biohacking: Personal Tech’s Possible Future
Sunday 3/9 - 3:45PM – 4:00PM – Austin Convention Center – Ballroom F
Human hacking? Transhumanism? This is a must see talk for anyone interested in where the intersection of technology and human ability will take hardware design.
6. Wearables & Beyond With Shaq
Sunday 3/9 - 5:00PM – 60 minutes – Austin Convention Center – Exhibit Hall 5
If the 15-time all-star and 4-time NBA champion wants to talk about how he is going to dominate wearable technology, I’d go listen.
7. The Intangible (& Uncalculated) Cost of Asia
Monday 3/10 - 12:30pm – 60 minutes – Austin Convention Center – Room 6AB
Manufacturing in Asia gets a lot of attention but its not always the best choice for every hardware company. This is a helpful talk for anyone considering their manufacturing options.
8. From Dream to Reality: Building a Wearable Concept
Monday 3/10 - 3:30PM – 60 minutes – Hyatt Regency Austin – Texas Ballroom 5-7
Jennifer Darmour, a pioneer in design and wearables giving a talk about developing marketable and beautifully designed technology.
TUESDAY, MARCH 11, 2014
9. Beyond 3D Printing: The 3rd Industrial Revolution
Monday 3/10 - 9:30AM – 60 minutes – Austin Convention Center -Ballroom A
If you want to learn more about 3D printing and its future this is the talk to check out from the handful at SXSW this year.
10. Come and Capture: Smart Glasses: The Future of Wearables & Content
Monday 3/10 - 12:30PM – 60 minutes – Austin Convention Center – Room 13AB
And, of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without some platform discussions around smart glasses and the generation and consumption of wearable content.
If you’re a hardware entrepreneur looking to get started on your next side project or startup, get started today by applying to FounderDating Hardware!
Neha Palacherla | March 5th, 2014
Vance Pan and Doug Squarebriggs are seasoned entrepreneurs who matched on FounderDating and are working together on Vancouver-based startup Nodally Technologies. Vance was a partner at DataCVG and Doug was a partner at Cam Technologies and Enterprise CodeWorks, as well as a founder of Ladner Creative.
For Doug Squarebriggs, getting Nodally off the ground meant finding someone who was also passionate about the enterprise software space, and Vance Pan was that person. The two cofounders first met at the Vancouver FD kickoff event in November 2012. “Most everyone at the meeting was looking at social media and web only projects on the software side of things,” says Doug, but he’s glad that he ran into Vance, who has a background similar to his. Doug almost didn’t go that night because of a bad cold, but he decided to tough it out. Turned out it was a great decision.
“We spoke the same language,” says Vance about meeting Doug at the kickoff event. Vance had been working in China, before he decided to move back to Vancouver to settle down and joined FounderDating to meet other entrepreneurs and share ideas about startups. He ran into Doug at a table discussing enterprise software and they spent the rest of the night trading ideas.Vance realized that Doug had a great technology and wanted to help him make a great company out of it. “We didn’t move on to any of the other tables,” says Doug and they both laugh.
The two cofounders have a long history with startups. Doug was a partner at Cam Technologies and Enterprise CodeWorks, as well as a founder of Ladner Creative, while Vance was a partner at DataCVG. They both knew they needed quality cofounders to get a startup going, and that there’s a lot of hard work involved. After they met at the kickoff, Vance started to collaborate with Doug and seven months after they started working together, their technology moved into beta.
Nodally recently launched an open source project on GitHub called Xenograte-xct. The Xenograte technology is an application platform that enables data to flow freely among software and/or machines so they can integrate easily and seamlessly. The cofounders acknowledge that there have been challenges along the way, as with every new company, but Doug says, “We have very different skill sets and that helps as we round each other out and complement each other.” In the end, it’s their drive to make a difference in the world of enterprise software that keeps them working towards developing and growing Nodally.
Be the next FounderDating success story! If you’re looking for a cofounder or advisor, get started today.
Neha Palacherla | March 4th, 2014
This guest post was written by Bernard Desarnauts. He has been an entrepreneur and investor for over 20 years in both the Silicon Valley and Europe with companies such as ViaFone and Circade. He is currently Senior Vice President at Glam Media.
Stealth: a secret, clandestine, or surreptitious procedure and — I would add — the topic of innumerable conversations and opinions in start-up land.
While being very public and totally open is what 99% of startups should embrace, there are a very few, select tech startups that can and should operate in stealth. This article is squarely focused on new start-ups, rather than assessing the merits of the “Apple-sque” new product secrecy model.
There are really only two legitimate reasons to operate in secrecy – either to generate pre-launch buzz or to have the time to iterate and potentially pivot before MVP and launch — and there are many many more not to. There are also several “ego” or “vanity” reasons to operate early in stealth, such as leveraging prior founder successes, or thinking it might help with funding or recruiting.
Back in 1999, I was the founding CEO of ViaFone and we operated in stealth mode for the first six months of the company under the “WAMBAM” codename which stood for Wireless Access Meets Brick And Mortar.
The main benefit of operating in stealth at that time was to allow us to flesh out a very broad concept into a potentially viable business opportunity. While we’d started the journey around the concept to enable consumers to check price and reviews from online sources via the unique UPC codes while shopping in store (talk about doing this way too early!) we ended up rather quickly to focus (pivot) the business towards offering a mobile-commerce ASP (this would be now called a SaaS solution). We then raised a Series A round of more than $12M from premier investors including DFJ and Partech at which point we became public about our goals and purposes.
To be honest, we really only chose to operate in stealth largely because it was the trendy thing to do at the time. We never really analyzed in depth our motivations or reasons for going down that path vs versus being open and somewhat public about our aspirations. In hindsight, this was kind of an accepted trait of a wannabe hot and successful startup. But back then, other expected startup behaviors were emerging as well, included things such as desks made of doors and saw-horses, and fully equipped kitchens with top of the line coffee machines.
Luckily for us, this stealth period didn’t create many negative or undue expectations and instead allowed us to navigate and iterate from the original idea into a more fleshed out and viable path to secure our first institutional round of funding. This proved short-lived, as we ended up pivoting the business six months later from the Mobile eCommerce ASP model to a more classic (for the time) mobile apps enterprise software vendor. Two years later we were acquired by Extended Systems a pioneer in mobile data synchronization which in turn got acquired the following year by Sybase.
The most common reason to go stealth is based upon the notion that unveiling a new product (or service) at the very last moment generates pre-launch buzz. This in turn has the potential to drive a significantly accelerated market momentum that in turn becomes the barrier to entry versus competitors and imitators.
A few startups who followed this path went instantly viral and generated tons of earned media coverage helping them get big very fast. Zillow is one of these startups that comes to mind. Their amazing success was partially driven by being the first to unveil a public and transparent value estimate of every house in the US , in an industry that, at best, was opaque until then. This was a defining moment and they got covered in depth by the media. If news had leaked earlier about this feature, several of their competitors could have pre-empted them since it isn’t a hugely complicated feature to develop.
One could, however, contend that the corollary to this approach is that for the majority of startups, the pre-launch buzz ends up generating unsustainable expectations. And with this lack of early unbiased feedback and iteration, by the time the company is ready to launch and unveil, they usually end up being underwhelming or “so-what” launches. At times, they can also evolve into complete and very public disasters affecting all involved from founders to early team members. You might recall what happened a couple years ago to Bill Nguyen’s Color project as a notorious recent example.
Idea to MVP
The other very valid argument for a company to remain in stealth mode is that they have assessed that the time necessary to go from ideation to a fully fleshed out and developed MVP might be so long that others with deeper resources could also get there faster/better than them. In other words, the startup speed agility advantage is potentially dwarfed by the technology complexity and length of development necessary. Therefore, it requires as much secrecy as possible.
Two successful start-up companies here are SIRI and Nest. Both required a couple years of heavy technical work before they were ready to unveil their products.
As Adam Cheyer, one of the founders of SIRI said on Quora, “As a startup, we were potentially competing with large companies with lots of resources (e.g. Google, Microsoft), and we needed a good running head start before anyone knew precisely what we were trying to accomplish.”
Or in the case of Nest, the element of genuine surprise based on Tony Fadell’s previous claim to fame was just exhilarating, “A thermostat? Really? You guys are going from building iPods and iPhones to thermostats?” Most in Silicon Valley would first react that thermostats are so uncool compared to inventing the next consumer electronics!
Going stealth mode really isn’t for every startup and only works for certain cases. When it comes to generating buzz and momentum, stealth mode seemed to be the only way for startups to deliver their message to the masses. But now we have movements like “growth-hacking” (essentially viral marketing with a hipper name) with fully fledged communities that give us one less reason to stay in the dark. The Tony Fadells or Adam Cheyers of this world are part of the exclusive 1% of entrepreneurs who can pull it off. For the rest of us, stealth mode is fast becoming a vestige of Silicon Valley’s past. Embracing openness and leveraging the various “lean” models of continuous iteration with direct market feedback seems to be the way to go.
If you want to dig deeper on the topic of stealth, Mike Abasov, a well-known digital marketing expert, recently wrote a very good article covering the topic in details.
Whether you decide to go stealth mode or not, it’s never too early to get connected with entrepreneurs and advisors. Get started today!
Guest Author | February 25th, 2014
This guest post was written by Ro Choy, who is currently the COO at BitTorrent. He is also an active advisor and board member in over 20 companies and former C-level executive at Formspring and Rockyou. He’s also an advisor in the FD:Advisors network
In business school, I had an entrepreneurship class where the professor classified all people who’ve started companies as fools, and entrepreneurs as successful fools. Honestly, I’m not sure there’s a difference between the two. With that in mind, I’ve been a fool and advised fools/entrepreneurs for nearly 15 years.
I’ve always enjoyed the process of helping people take their best shot at the foolish life, having lived both the highs (assembling Ikea furniture for new employees, finding product market fit, raising quan) and the lows (bankruptcy, disassembling said Ikea furniture, saying goodbye to my team). Here’s a short list of things I’ve learned in that process.
1. Call a spade a spade but don’t call it a f****** shovel
As an advisor, I’ve tended to be brutally honest with folks I’ve worked with, whether it’s a complete redo on the style and substance of a presentation, or explaining that a product isn’t ready for primetime. Being consistently honest builds trust quickly with entrepreneurs, and given the short timeframe for their success with limited capital, that time is critical. The faster they trust your advice and execute against it the better.
I also understand that the last thing an entrepreneur facing long odds needs is more negative feedback, so while brute honesty is important, I try and find ways to not only criticize but always suggest positive changes or alternatives to the task at hand. It’s easy to say something is wrong, but an advisor without a positive suggestion on how to improve it is just a critic.
2. I am Morpheus.
“Neo, sooner or later you’re going to realize just as I did that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”
One of the biggest obstacles to personal success is self-doubt. Doesn’t matter whether it’s an entrepreneur or a line employee, career success is completely dependent on a person’s desire to set a target far above what seems plausible and to chase after it without reserve. I classify most entrepreneurs as Neo from the Matrix, individuals who actually already are rockstars in just the mere act of starting something impossible, but just don’t believe it enough to assume it and succeed. The job of a great advisor is to help a person find that uber version of themselves, a Morpheus to their Neo.
For me, this comes in a bunch of different ways, but the most critical is first realizing that my experiences and failures are a great tool. The constant s***-storms, politics, second-guessing and fail whales of a startup are a common, shared experience. Helping an entrepreneur realize that they’re not alone in that process helps remove some of their self-doubt. Self-deprecation and lessons learned from my own iterative failure are a massive help to an entrepreneur looking for advice and support when they need it most, when things aren’t going well.
In addition, once an entrepreneur has achieved a base level of success (initial traction, first funds raised), I consciously stay away and let them do their thing. Being Morpheus means letting go, until the next time you’re needed for good counsel. The most successful startups I’ve advised I helped heavily at the outset, and didn’t hear from them for 3-4 years, which was when the bankers called for a home address to send paperwork.
3. “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”
I just read the Steve Jobs book by Walter Isaacson, and man was Steve off-putting. In many ways, his negative engagement with partners, employees and friends would drive most companies to abject failure. But one thing that drove his massive success was his unabashed desire to explore new things (drugs, philosophy, diet, technology).
I’ve advised a couple dozen startups to this point and worked at a half dozen. One thing I’ve gotten used to is constant change. Most folks hate it. Frankly, for a long time I wasn’t a huge fan of it either. If things were going well, I wanted things to continue going well and not have to constantly effort success. Yes that’s called laziness and it’s a common problem. It’s hard to tell someone to just work harder or smarter to deal with it. In fact that’s stupid advice. I prefer to repeat the Steve Job mantra instead.
“Learn to never be satisfied with the status quo, to constantly expand your understanding of users, audience, products or markets.”
Working with entrepreneurs to strive for that ideal helps them adapt to constant change. As an advisor, you should help an entrepreneur see that it’s something not only to expect and fear but to work towards and achieve for themselves. Driving their own constant change into an organization or market versus being the recipient of it can dramatically improve an entrepreneur’s outlook on a business, reduce their doubt and ultimately deliver success.
Being foolish and driving change may be the only way to truly succeed as an entrepreneur. Frankly, it’s impossible to be a great advisor if you haven’t been the fool yourself.
Guest Author | February 18th, 2014
This guest post was written by Will Koffel. He is a repeat entrepreneur and is currently an advisor for BookBub and Chief Elucidation Officer at ClearlyTech.
A strong relationship with a technical advisor is a necessity for all early-stage founders who are building technology products, whether you are using a contractor, off-shore team, or full-time staff. You would never write contracts without any attorney, or start building a bridge without consulting a structural engineer, so don’t go blindly building code until you’ve picked the brain of an experienced software technologist. In later stages, your technical advisor can continue to be a trusted ear for you, and a useful resource for your own growing technical team.
Through my work as an independent advisor, and with organizations like Mass Challenge, Founder Mentors, and NEVCA’s Critical Mass, I’ve been a compensated advisor (cash and/or equity) to at least a half-dozen startups, a pro-bono advisor to a few dozen, and an occasional advisor to hundreds. Sometimes, it’s a waste of time for everyone involved. But I’ve had a ton of really enjoyable and rewarding advisory relationships, and with the right approach, you can too.
A good technical advisor will provide benefits including:
Vetting and Interviewing potential technical hires
Leveraging experience to suggest the best tools and services you can trust
Ensuring the right stuff is being built in the right order, protecting you from spending in the wrong places too early
Picking a development methodology and process that helps you work effectively with your development team and keep your product build on schedule
Finding A Technical Advisor
When you look for a technical advisor, you want to find someone who has deep technical experience, especially in areas you care about (big data? user-generated content? mobile applications?). But skip the techies who are coming to you with an agenda. You don’t want them pitching their pet technologies, but rather offering the best solution for your unique business.
Often, you can reach out to strong technical leaders (CTOs usually) at other startups in your area (or remote, doesn’t much matter if the communication skills are strong). Pitch them on your idea, let them know why you need their help. A genuine interest in cultivating the best technical operation you can goes a long way towards making us want to help you.
Make The Most of an Advisor
Now that you have the attention of a great technical advisor, here’s some advice from an advisor’s perspective on how you can get the best out of us.
1. Show a genuine interest in the tech and execution side of your business. We get excited by your entrepreneurial curiosity, and we’re proud of the tech and product experience we bring to the table. Ask us questions, dig in deep. We’re here to discuss with you, not to lecture at you. It’s not useful for anyone if we are spoon-feeding generic answers across the table.
2. Do your homework. It’s demoralizing to be asked questions that Google can answer faster and more completely than us. Don’t ask “How do I set up a Google Apps mailing list?” until you’ve taken a swing at it. If you come prepared into a conversation, it’s more productive and enjoyable for everyone.
3. Ask “Why.” Since you’ve done your homework and have a sense of what your options are, we’re happy to tell you which option is right for you. Unfortunately, not nearly enough of my advisees follow up with “why?” You should want to know why that’s the best option for your business or for your team. Why should you want to know? Because of the ”teach a man to fish…” principle, and because your tech team will respect you more if you understand the why.
4. Teach Us Back. We’re not working with you for our health, or because of a community service court order. We think you are smart, interesting, and have something to teach us too. Make sure this relationship is a two-way street, and don’t be surprised when we turn the tables and start picking your brain in return.
What to Avoid
Here are some pitfalls I’ve noticed founders get into when working with me as an advisor. Heed these and I guarantee that everyone will get more from the relationship.
1. Stop Pitching Us. You wouldn’t believe how many times I sit down for coffee with an advisee, only to have them spend 45 minutes telling me all about how the business is progressing, what the latest product ideas are, how much money they are definitely going to raise, and why it’s all going to change the world. There’s a time and an audience for that, but you’ve just wasted a whole meeting with someone who was there to help you, and you’ve gotten no value out of it.
2. Don’t get defensive. We are spending our valuable time helping you out because we want you to succeed. We aren’t a competitor, we aren’t your boss, and we don’t have a hidden agenda to sink your idea. If you succeed, we look good and we’re proud to be associated with your success. Take our advice for what it’s worth, and then implement it or not. You are running the show here, no need to get defensive.
3. Don’t be excessively legal. Okay, so that doesn’t mean be illegal, of course. Rather, don’t start shoving NDAs and IP Assignment agreements at a technical advisor early in the relationship, or ever for that matter. Tech people are the most skeptical bunch when it comes to politics and legal mumbo-jumbo (we incorrectly believe we would never use such litigious instruments if we were in your shoes). If you do want to stamp an agreement to protect both parties, keep it simple. Check out the Founder Institute’s FAST for a good starting place.
4. We’re not your code monkey. If you are secretly hoping that you can get your technical advisor to fix your team’s code, or to build some part of your app in their advisory hours, put that thought aside. I had an advisee who actually asked me to re-install Windows on a laptop in their office, a task I thankfully managed to side-step. Many advisors will be happy to establish a separate consulting agreement if you want to pay us by the hour to get more hands-on. Keep those two parts of the relationship separate and everyone will be happier.
Armed with these Do’s and Don’ts, go build a really valuable relationship with a trusted partner. It’ll save a lot of headache and give you a leg up on confidently executing a real product that lives up to your vision.
If you’re looking to get started with great technical advisors, apply to FounderDating today and get access to high-quality entrepreneurs and advisors.
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