Becoming a PM, Entrepreneurism, Uncategorized 5 comments on Moving faster than the documentation

Moving faster than the documentation

I’ve decided to hop back into the game, and build a new app. I’m not announcing what it is yet because it’s no where near ready, but I really like the idea.

I’ve also decided to be really trendy, and use the latest in software development tools. This kills many birds with one stone:

  1. Challenge myself to learn a new programming paradigm as recommended by my favorite programming book
  2. Keep up to date with some of the newest, coolest toys on the block
  3. Connect more personally with the customers of the products we build at TokBox to better understand their needs in modern JS development

And I have to say that while I know we have a long way to catch up as far as TokBox technical content goes, we’re miles ahead of the current state of the coolest toys on the block in JS world.

In full disclosure, I’ve only tried the React.js stack, and not the Angular stack. I’ve also avoided Backbone, underscore, and many others. And so this may not be true in other places.

But I’m fascinated at how far ahead of the documentation and developer experience Facebook has moved on these projects. Tutorials written six months ago are grossly out of date with the latest code bases. GitHub issues that look like the problem I’m having have actually nothing to do with what’s in front of me.

I jumped into this world because I saw that the folks at Automattic had done so for Calypso. I figured I’d follow their lead. But I’m getting swamped.

What’s the killer resource folks are using? What’s the bare minimum project that I should be starting from? What’s the Slack channel I should subscribe to to learn bottoms up?

Any and all help is greatly appreciated.

Entrepreneurism, Uncategorized 0 comments on Applied learning

Applied learning

As I’m in the car a bit more than I was in the past, I’ve been getting back into the swing of listening to podcasts. One of my favorites is Startups for the rest of us.

I went to their conference in Las Vegas back in 2012, and I’ve worked my way through a fat chunk of their back log as well. I’ve shared it with a ton of folks, and all of a sudden one of the folks I shared it with is making a go of it.

I’m not going to say who or what yet, but I’m really quite excited to see what happens as he tries to bootstrap his way towards a SaaS business. The customer is already there. The LTV is already vetted. It’s really just about execution.

As soon as I can, I’m going to update how well it worked, but getting to apply the learning of all of the listening is going to be a fun experiment.

Good luck <name redacted>!

Entrepreneurism, Uncategorized 0 comments on Finally, 42 launches their project!

Finally, 42 launches their project!

This was Tuesday’s blog post, but I didn’t publish it in time. 2 in a row is bad. It won’t happen again!

My favorite (or maybe #1a) manager of all time, Eishay Smith, and his startup, 42, Inc. (inspired by the answer to all things), have launched their first product – finally. It’s called kifi, and I signed up tonight. I haven’t had a chance to play with it, but based on the intro slides it could be another riff on the social content 2.0/conversation angle (good thing amplifize is just a hobby!).

Some surface thoughts:

  • It’s gorgeous, but no surprise as I think I know who the genius is behind the design
  • Content is culled and organized through a bookmarklet interface. I can tell anyone who will listen that I think this is the right way to bring content into a conversation platform (having found how hard readers are to build from personal experience). The challenge is folks remembering that it’s there and making it part of their browsing pattern.
  • Tags are a big piece. Again, I think a lot of the value comes from ontologies, and the power they provide to create value through organization. Hopefully smart sharing, muting, and discovery come down quickly as the data engine behind kifi gets smarter.

While I only know two of the folks involved, they are big time winners, and so I’m confident that the team will find a way to win. Good luck Eishay and team!

Entrepreneurism, Uncategorized 0 comments on Why content 2.0 is hard

Why content 2.0 is hard

This is Monday’s blog post, but it posted 2 days late… Oops 🙂

Facebook just announced that they acquired Branch – a conversation platform – today.

This would have put the heat on amplifize had I been pursuing it, and I’ll tell you why. Between Google Reader, the websites that already have epic conversation modes (reddit, digg, etc), and the untracked, but still relevant flow, of link passing through email, the demand for sharing and discussing relevant, and targeted, content is clear. The business model is not.

The challenges in that arena are the following:

  1. CPA per my testing is about $8-$10 when buying users off Facebook
  2. LTV is incredibly low
  3. Alternatives are readily available
  4. Defensibility is low
  5. And here’s the doozy… The content you’re trying to monetize on top of is already available for free on the web setting the value of content very close to $0.

The solutions to 1, 3, & 4 are very well linked. Create an amazing product that compels folks to invite their friends simultaneously decreasing CPA while making the switching cost that much more expensive through network effects.

I know amplifize could have achieved that goal given time and resource. (Aside: what Branch did that was much smarter was not try to be a reader AND a conversation platform. They are inherently separate audiences, and by addressing both we (at least) doubled the work we had to do to succeed.)

And I’m sure that by using social login, sharing and discovery of Branch was much easier. I didn’t get there, and so I can’t speak to its effects on CPA, but those guys did a great job of helping a user broadcast content to their existing networks while building a compelling reason to come to Branch thereafter.

But there’s just no quick and dirty way around issues 2 & 5. And that’s where the problem lies for Flipboard, reddit, digg, amplifize, and, ultimately it seems, Branch.

My vision to solve this problem for amplifize was that user-powered curation was the future of monetizing content. A modern newspaper should only deliver the content I want and it should know how much I can consume and when I consume it. If I only read 3 long form articles per week, and only on Sunday, then have my Sunday edition be that. If I always read the top sports news Monday morning, then, bam, there’s my Monday edition. All of this can be built by watching my patterns of consuming, sharing, engaging, and dropping off. Simultaneously, by tagging content, or describing it in certain ways, I implicitly build an ontology that creates the sections of my own personal newspaper. It may not be A1, Local, Sports, but Comics, Technology, and Page Six. All implicitly observed and explicitly packaged for me, by me.

And my vision involved finding a way to do so at 50¢ per day with a $1.50 Sunday edition – using pricing nostalgia to connect old and new.

The modern editor is everyone. However, if the signals disappeared because the conversations moved to everyone’s existing social network, then creating the daily digest would become impossible. That’s why this acquisition would have created sleepless nights.

I don’t know where Branch was going to take their vision, and I’m now really excited to see what Facebook does with it. But I think that ultimately they too fell victim to the allure of a huge demand without cracking the CPA/LTV nut that had the goodies inside.

And this is why content 2.0 is hard.

Entrepreneurism, Uncategorized 4 comments on Philly Startup Weekend

Philly Startup Weekend

The ink has barely dried on the weekend that was Philly Startup Weekend, but I felt the need to just jot down the experience before I lost it in the chaos of getting back to the grind.

I need to just start by saying that it was for me simply an awesome experience.

If you don’t know what the Startup Weekend phenomenon is, then I’d suggest scurrying on over to and getting a quick gist. For the overly lazy, you get 58 hours to build a prototype to then show off to a panel of judges at the end of the weekend. Friday night, folks pitch ideas that range from insane to awe-inspiring, and in between it all you hope to find someone to work.

The event this weekend in Philly happened at the University of Arts (where the art is dope, btw). There were some presentations on Friday night, including yours truly showing off OpenTok. Folks shared close to 35 ideas, and then the whole crowd voted on their favorites to get it down to 20. In the end, 16 groups presented Sunday evening (and are probably still presenting as I write this at 30,000′ over the Midwest).

So, given the background info, why was it awesome?

  • Inspiring Folks
    • Let’s be honest. Most of the time when dealing with the world of startups, people with ideas, folks pitching, we all immediately glaze over or think to ourselves about how often we’ve heard that someone thinks they can beat Google at text ads. There’s a malaise to hearing people tell you how great their next big thing is.

      Now, that said, there’s something to a room filled with people who think that in some small way they’re going to do the impossible. Build a minimum viable product in 50+ hours, create buzz around it through their own social networks, Hacker News and TechCrunch, and then buy an island in the Caribbean. I made the last one up, but the crowd-sourced energy has an infectious buzz to it that some of the meet and greet, idea kick around sessions seem to lack. There’s a real bravado to the “I don’t give a damn about telling you my idea because I’m going to do it better than you”. I LOVED it.

  • Good energy
    • I already mentioned this in the previous bullet, but it has to be said again. The people were amazing. Nothing but good energy in the room for 3 days, and that just makes everything better. Enough said.
  • Fun ideas
    • There was a real quirkiness to the ideas that I really enjoyed. One guy through out the idea of building a dating site where it was only people who were rated an “8” or better. The collective thought in the room was definitely how do you build a product you can’t use.

      There was this amazing iPhone art application built by a grad student at RIT who wanted some help with taking it to the next level.

      Someone wanted to solve the ever-unsolvable guarantee a parking spot problem.

      Jewelry rental, clothing measurement management, relationship analysis by text message aggregation, the list goes on and on. I ended up working with a group who hope to bridge the teacher-to-student divide amongst high schoolers by having Facebook be a critical part of how information is shared (but more details on that in another post).

      The whole gambit of ideas was really impressive.

  • Opportunity
    • I would say the weekend started with an interesting split of 50/40/10 to engineers/business folks/other. That really surprised me. If you’re a developer, and you’re bored, then build an OpenTok app. But if you don’t want to build an OpenTok app, then find some of these business folks at your local graduate school, and start building things. Business folks are desperate to see cool ideas turned into applications, and I feel as if good developers have an angst to work on something that they believe is fun.

      If this weekend taught me anything it’s that if you don’t love your job the opportunity to find something you love doing is 56 hours away.

I want to thank the organizers of the Philly Startup Weekend for a really great event, and I’m really looking forward to going to more of these in the future. Let’s hope they all live up to the hype.