Archive for November, 2009
I just read a great article on how to increase sales at software companies.
This is from the blog of Jason Cohen, a software entrepreneur in Austin, Texas.
Intel sponsors another significant event annually, the Intel + UC Berkeley Technology Entrepreneurship Challenge. This year, the two events overlapped. The Intel Capital CEO Summit was November 16-18, and the Entrepreneurship Challenge was November 17-19.
I don’t have anything to do with the Entrepreneurship Challenge, but I was invited to the dinner on the 18th. Sadly, I had to miss it since I was still in Huntington Beach at the Summit. However, I was able to attend the Challenge final event tonight, the 19th, at the Haas School of Business at University of California at Berkeley.
The Entrepreneurship Challenge is a business plan competition for teams from all over the world. The semi-finalists and finalists presented their plans tonight in a public forum, and the four winning teams received cash prizes totaling $45,000.00.
I love business plan competitions. I’ve been a judge in the Haas Business Plan Competition for over five years. Generally, the judging day is the most exciting day of the year for me. It’s exciting because I get to meet some of the smartest and most enthusiastic people in the world.
The semi-finalists received 30 seconds each to deliver their ‘elevator pitches’. The finalists received about 10 minutes each. The finalist presentations were outstanding, but I did not capture them on video for this blog, as I consider them to be somewhat confidential. Yes, they presented in a public forum, but I don’t think the teams would want the presentations to be posted to the Internet. I did capture the elevator pitches on video for this blog, however, as they were so brief that I think sharing them online is not likely to harm the companies.
As you can see in the clip above, the ideas are quite varied, and are of high quality.
The winners of the competition were all non-US based teams. One team was from China, one was from Germany and one was from Singapore. The team from China won two prizes, the first place prize and the audience awarded prize for favorite team.
The winners were:
1st prize and people’s choice: iHeath Group
2nd prize: CaptchAd
3rd prize: Zimplistic
Here are the descriptions of the winning companies from the event’s website (EntrepreneurshipChallenge.org):
Ihealth – Tsinghua University, P.R. China
Ihealth Group aims to improve life quality with its revolutionary new product—MPHB biodegradable bone screws. Ihealth has developed MPHB bone screw in light of bionics which has been granted a national patent in China. Our product overcomes the disadvantages of the existing materials and provides a nearly perfect solution for the rehabilitation and fixation of bone injuries.
CaptchaAd – Technical University Munich, Germany
The CaptchaAd GmbH is the world’s first company to combine enhanced SPAM protection with interactive video advertising and thus increase the security on websites and facilitates visitor’s use, while at the same time ensuring a more conscious perception of advertising by the user. Instead of distorted codes conventional CAPTCHAs (an anti SPAM function used more than 250 million times a day worldwide) use to differentiate between humans and machines, CaptchaAd (Captcha Advertising) uses questions concerning the content of the spot. A CaptchaAd is a short commercial including a question which can easily be read and answered by site customers to substitute the “normal” CAPTCHA process. This results in a higher level of attention and involvement by the user to the viewed content.
Zimplistic – National University of Singapore, Singapore
Roti is staple diet of 800 million Indians eating 2.4 billion rotis everyday. Making rotis is a very time consuming, tedious and skillful task and since there is no fully automatic home appliance that makes rotis, people resort to unhealthy and expensive alternatives like frozen rotis. Zimplistic is a Singapore based startup that has designed & developed the first ever, fully automatic “Rotimatic”. It is like a coffee machine. It is the size of a mini microwave oven, the user just has to enter no. of rotis, and it measures, kneads, flattens, roasts and puffs rotis out.
I just got home from the Intel Capital CEO Summit in Southern California. Intel puts on such a compelling event for its Portfolio Companies.
I met some really interesting CEOs.
Jeff Liesendahl of Accertify, LLC (Accertify.com) in Illinois runs a fascinating company that helps online merchants avoid selling to customers that are using stolen credit card numbers. He has some crazy stories of fraud well beyond anything I have read about. I won’t post the stories here since he might not appreciate my repeating them in a public forum. But one story I can share as he said it hit the newspapers. He said there are criminal gangs that create fake profiles on eHarmony, looking for targets to defraud. One such profile showed a hunk of a man that advertised himself as a widowed engineer. It turns out he was a scammer living in Nigeria. He pursued a woman he met on eHarmony for nine months, and they got engaged without ever having met in person. eHarmony discovered the gang, and their security staff contacted the woman and told her this man was a criminal and that she must break off contact with him. The woman did not take heed, and said they must have made a mistake, as she was planning to marry this man. The man later convinced the woman to sell her house and wire him $160,000.00. Once she did that, she never heard from him again. What a story.
Jeff’s company has an apparently very solid business, as they seek to compile the same type of fraud detection databases the credit card companies maintain. These databases are used to detect fraud in progress by looking for unusual activity. What many people do not know is that the credit card companies don’t share their databases with online merchants, as they have no financial incentive to do so, as the merchants are 100% responsible for fraud. Jeff said online credit card fraud is a $100,000,000,000.00 per year problem, and the card companies want no part of that liability. Merchants have a very strong motivation to buy his company’s products and services.
Gail Kantor of eJamming (eJamming.com) also has a company I think is fascinating. eJamming allows musicians to play music together live over the Internet, no matter the location of each musician. They have spent five years perfecting their peer-to-peer software that, among other things, moderates the effect of different latency values that different Internet connections have.
Jens Nikolaj Aertebjerg, CEO of NeuString (neustring.com), has a company that makes predictive analytics software for the telecommunications industry. They promise to provide customers with a return on investment in just two months, the shortest ROI time frame I’ve ever heard of.
Finally, I got to meet Human Ramezani, in the IT Innovation area at BMW Group. I got to tell him my wish list for car features, and he graciously promised to pass them on to the right people at BMW.
Briefly, I would like to see ‘TiVo for radio’ where the car radio would record my favorite National Public Radio shows so I could listen to them no matter what time of day I am driving.
I would also like to see a system that would phone rescue personnel if a baby is left in a parked car. He said this one should be easy for them to implement since there is already a motion sensor inside the passenger compartment for break in detection. I suggested the car first phone and text message the owner, and if there is no quick response, the car would then call rescue personnel.
Finally, I would like to see motor vehicles cool themselves while parked in hot climates. This could be done with a small solar panel in the sun roof directly connected to a fan. The fan need not be connected to the vehicle battery, to avoid any danger of the fan draining the battery. The fan would only activate when there’s enough sun to power it, so there is no need for a power switch. I suspect a fair amount of oil is used in the world to cool hot car interiors just after starting. If the car interior were close to the outside air temperature, drivers wouldn’t have to run the air conditioner on high for the first minutes, thus saving fuel.
One of the most helpful features of the Intel Capital CEO Summit is the formal matchmaking between Portfolio Company CEOs and industry executives. The matchmaking is set up in a large ballroom. There are about 100 tables for two. A senior representative from such companies as BMW, Disney and Walmart is sitting at each table. The portfolio company CEOs are matched via a web application ahead of time. At the matchmaking event, each Portfolio Company CEO gets a private one-on-one meeting with five industry executives. This year I was matched with BMW, Agco Corporation, Corent Technology, Capgemini and NEUSoft Group International. One of these meetings was very good, and there was a direct match in interests, so I consider the matchmaking a valuable success.
There is a lot of energy in the room during the matchmaking meetings. Here’s a short video clip I shot showing the activity.
I saw three dimensional television for the first time tonight. It’s a remarkably captivating experience. I don’t know if it will ever take off, but it sure made an impression on the audience at the Intel Capital CEO Summit today in Huntington Beach, CA.
Here is a video I shot of a 3D television camera. It looks very expensive, perhaps in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The flat panel TV in the video costs $8,500.00. When you put on the 3D glasses, look at the flat panel, and move your hand toward the TV camera, it looks to you like your hand is coming out of the TV screen. It’s stunning.
For the second year, I got to meet MC Hammer at the Intel Capital CEO Summit. MC wasn’t performing this year, like he did last year. But he was actively asking questions and meeting people. He grilled Sprint CEO Dan Hesse about Sprint’s plans for WiMax 4G broadband wireless service. MC sat at my table at dinner tonight after one of my table mates invited him to sit with us. At the end of dinner, I asked MC if I could have a picture with him, and he agreed. MC is particularly interested in website metrics and analytics, judging from the questions I heard him asking.
I am at the Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach, California this week attending the tenth annual Intel Capital CEO Summit (http://www.intel.com/capital/entrepreneur/ceosummit.htm). The company behind my website gOffice is one of the 175 Intel Capital Portfolio Companies participating this year. The three day conference promises to be very exciting. At the conference last year I got to meet and talk with Intel CEO Paul Otellini and Intel Capital President Arvind Sodhani.
One of the high points at the conference last year, in San Francisco, was an appearance by the musician and entrepreneur MC Hammer. He spoke about his company DanceJam.com, which was acquired earlier this year. I got to meet Hammer the next day when I was getting a glass of water when he said “Hi Kevin.” I was startled. He was standing by the refreshment table in one of the session ballrooms, and I just happened to be there at the same time he was there, and he read my name from my badge. We had a nice conversation, and I commented on how well he speaks in public. He told me his other work as a minister helped him hone his speaking skills.
It turned out DanceJam was funded in part by Ron Conway, who invested in my first Internet company, Hotpaper.com, through his angel fund at the time. Ron was actually at the Intel summit last year as well, as a guest of Hammer.
I went on the walking tour today that University of California at San Francisco conducted to solicit community feedback about its plan to make its forested lands less prone to wildfire. The University had an actual Forester conduct the tour, and I feel I learned a lot. There were about 20 people there including the representatives from UC.
The information I was most surprised to learn is that when trees are cut down they will usually grow back if left unchecked. The regrowth can be stopped by applying a herbicide. We were told the herbicide can be applied with a paint brush or roller directly to the cut stump, and that only a cup of herbicide is enough to kill a stump about two feet across, which would be a large tree for this relatively young forest.
Here is a short video clip that I shot. It shows an example area on UCSF’s property that is already in the shape they plan to get the rest of their property in using in part the FEMA grant money they are applying to the United States Federal Government for. What I was impressed with is how good this area looks, and how safe it appears to me.
This clip is in true 1980 x 1020 high definition, and if you click on the Vimeo logo on the video above, you will be taken to Vimeo.com, which handles the video display on this blog. In the lower right corner of the Vimeo page that displays this video, there is a link where you can download the full resolution HD file, which is 316 megabytes. If you save it on your computer, you can just click on the file and watch the full HD version, which shows much more detail than the 1280 x 768 version you see here on this blog page. In any event, be sure to watch this video full screen, which you can enter by clicking the icon that looks sort of like a capital X in the lower right corner of the video player window.
About two months ago I came up with the following idea to lower mobile phone bills.
In the United States it’s common to select a cell phone rate plan based on the number of ‘anytime minutes’ which are typically weekday daytime minutes. If you go over your allocation, the extra minutes are quite costly, and one can rack up a really big bill of hundreds of dollars if one is not careful.
Many carriers in the US offer free mobile-to-mobile minutes, where callers on that carrier can call all other mobile phones on that carrier without using up anytime minutes.
My idea is to modify a mobile phone so that it can be connected to an unmetered conventional or VOIP phone line. The phone could be programmed to answer calls, give the caller a dial tone so they could type a phone number and then dial that number over the landline or VOIP phone line. Once the called party picks up, the calls would be conferenced together, and the mobile caller could talk with the remote party for free forever, no matter the day or time of week.
Think of this as similar to a calling card, but with a cap on the charges. For example, a Vonage line is $24.95 a month and an extra mobile phone line through AT&T is $9.95 a month, plus taxes and service charges, for a total of about $20 a month. So, for $44.95, one could have unlimited anytime minutes on a cell phone. The carriers charge much more, about $99.95 a month per phone, without the taxes and charges included. Those charges probably push the total to $125 a month.
The cost savings of my idea are even more substantial if a family has several phones, as one modified phone could serve multiple phones out in the world. If the modified phone is busy, the caller can hang up and dial directly, using up plan anytime minutes. But a lot of the time, the modified phone would be available to cut minute usage.
The called parties would see the caller ID value of the conventional or VOIP phone line, not the number of the phone in the hands of the caller. This might be an advantage, since conventional and VOIP lines support name display as well as number display. There might be a software solution to this issue, to optionally allow the originating cell number to carry through to the called party instead.
This cell phone arbitrage might be possible with just a software application on a fully open phone platform. I could see software being written that would answer calls only from pre-programmed numbers, and then use a VOIP application on the same phone to place the outbound call. If the phone is left at home or at the office where there is WiFi, the VOIP call can go out over the WiFi connection.
I suspect there are no mobile phone platforms out there today that are open enough to permit this. It just seems unlikely an application can be written to answer the phone automatically and verify the user is authorized before placing an outbound call. But I suspect there are development cell phone platforms available that are fully programmable. I would imagine these being used by companies for example building home automation systems where the homeowner might want to call in to turn on the air conditioner via the mobile network.
Mobile carriers could block my arbitrage idea by requiring phones to be moved regularly. If they sensed one phone was being used in one place all the time, they could discontinue free mobile-to-mobile minutes for that phone, ruining the cost advantage.
The rate arbitrage works for receiving calls as well. Just ask your contacts to call the conventional or VOIP number instead of your actual cell number. The modified phone could be programmed to answer inbound calls from the conventional or VOIP line and then dial your cell phone out in the world using the modified cell phone to carry the call. Then, when you pick up, the two calls are conferenced together. If the modified phone is in use, the inbound call goes straight to voicemail. Sadly, I see no way for call waiting to be implemented, unfortunately, unless two modified cell phones were used. Then the second modified phone could be used to place another call to you in the world, and the call waiting feature on that phone would activate and you could toggle the two calls. The two modified phones could collaborate via WiFi with each other.
The advantage to running most calls in and out of a conventional or VOIP line is that that line can also be used conventionally when one is near that line physically. It could be a normal home or office line.
I like this rate arbitrage idea, but I have no plans to pursue it. I don’t know enough about phones to attempt it, and I think this idea will have a lifespan measured in just a few years. I think all mobile phones are headed towards unlimited pricing that’s affordable. Once that happens, there will be less reason to work with extra phones. However, I would like to see a discussion develop about this idea, and I’m open to working on this idea if it can be shown to be long lived.
On November 9, 2009 a driver of a large freight truck plunged off the roadway of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge and died. According to news reports, he was driving ten miles over the posted speed limit. There has been discussion in the media about how to slow drivers down before they get to the tricky new S curve on the bridge, which was installed recently as part of the big project to replace the bridge with a more earthquake resistant version.
I thought of an idea that might help slow people down a lot.
Many bridge commuters carry so-called FasTrac electronic toll passes. These passes charge the users’ accounts when they pass through a toll booth.
My idea is to put sets of FasTrac sensors on the section of the bridge where the speed limit is reduced due to the S curve.
The first sensor would capture the ID of the FasTrac device. The second sensor would capture the ID and calculate how long it had been since that same ID had been captured by the first sensor. If the time interval was short enough to prove speeding, the account holder would be charged a speeding fine immediately and the device would beep to tell the user their account had been hit. A sign on the bridge could advertise the size of the potential fine to discourage speeding. The fine could increase each time the account holder violated the speed limit. An email copy of each FasTrac speeding ticket could be sent to the account holder to further prod drivers to slow down.
My idea does not require extra police patrols, and would help slow drivers down at all hours. The tragic truck accident happened around 3 in the morning, when few police patrols are practical.
While my idea may raise legal issues, I think it has the chance to save lives at relatively low cost. It would certainly get a lot of publicity as people debate the idea of immediate fines the driver learns about instantly. In Europe I understand that traffic cameras identify speeders, but the drivers learn about their infractions days later by postal mail. I think if a driver knows they will definitely get a ticket every time they speed on the bridge, their speed will drop dramatically and with more assurance than any other method I’ve heard of.
Yes, drivers can put their FasTrac device in a special bag to avoid detection, but the act of taking the device off of the windshield and hiding it may be enough to remind drivers they could fly off the bridge if they drive too fast.