NWEN First Look Forum – Connecting the Dots

The Northwest Entrepreneur Network hosted one of its signature events last Wednesday, the spring version of First Look Forum.  (For those who want to know the whole format, check the appendix at the bottom of this post.)  In a nutshell, it’s a several month process that brings 12 entrepreneurs who have never pitched their business before, together with 60-70 VC’s and Angels.  Very cool format. 

This year’s group of 12 finalists spanned the gamut from fusion to chocolate.  My colleague Shelley Whelan already posted a nice follow-up on the NWEN blog.  But Alissa Johnson from the Alliance of Angels had a clever idea for a blog post, and allowed me to steal it from her, since she is too busy at VCIC to put it together.  Her idea – explain how if all of these companies became successful, how might one use all of them in a single day.  So here goes, using me as the example.

As soon as I woke up, I’d log into the dashboard of FLF winner Guide Analytics.  The company helps patients manage heart failure and avoid hospitalization through the continuous monitoring of edema.  Patients wear a bracelet around their ankle, measuring ankle size and relaying that info via bluetooth and wireless devices to the main computer.  Now I don’t have heart problems, but I’d be able to check on my aunt’s status, and make sure everything was ok.  The system will tell us when she is in danger of a heart attack, and lets us get her to the doctor before it happens.

I’d get in my car and head to work.  I’d stop for coffee first at a certain store, because I could get some valuable points to help me in the BodSix game I was currently engaged in.  (This is still in development, so I can’t share too much here.)  But soon I’d get into the office and say hi to the staff.  One of my team members, a woman getting married soon, would be choosing bridesmaid dresses from Little Borrowed Dress. Her bridesmaids would be able to rent these silk dresses for $75, rather than spend $230 for some taffeta number they’d never wear again anyway.  Our happy bride-to-be is also showing pictures of the bridesmaid dresses to her fiance, who lives in New York, on their private page at SnuggleCloud, a personal online space for couples.

We’d probably have a client coming in that day, and undoubtedly, there’d be some furniture issue in some hard to reach angle of the room.  Thankfully, we’d have our new Flipout Screwdriver, which would enable us to fix it.  Before the client got to our office, we would have downloaded the reports from ReadyPulse, a company that provides insight on what works best to grow your audience on Facebook and Twitter.  Our client – a software company – is probably using AgileEVM, a product that helps with agile software developments.

We’ll want to take the client to lunch afterwards, so we’ll check UrbanQ a way for us to discover places and experiences we’ll like, from our mobile device.  UrbanQ might recommend a nice waterfront restaurant, where we notice all the ships using Fusion Engines developed by Woodruff Scientific.  These ships are actually sing sea water and the elements inside of it, to generate fuel through fusion.  The restaurant is great.  So I log into Meevine and ping my friends about it.  Hopefully we’ll all be able to pick a date soon.  

It was a long day.  So when I get home, I open up a high-end chocolate bar I got from Chocolopolis, something that goes nicely with my Spanish Rioja, and that I’ll probably pick up more of for the dinner party I’m throwing later this week.  I end the day reading a book about baseball history that had been turned into an iPad application by Appitude.  I use this app because I get to do more than just read the book – I’m part of a virtual book club, chatting on my iPad while scrolling through the text and pictures.  Some of my real life friends happen to be reading, and I’m connecting with other baseball history fans. 

That’s how I’d be able to utilize all the businesses who made it to the finals of this First Look Forum.  I encourage you to go check out the companies who already have products live, and signup to get ont he beta list for the others.


Appendix: About First Look Forum

  1. Over the course of several months, about 70 entrepreneurs, who have never pitched their business plan to an investor group, apply to FLF.  Everyone who applies gets some business plan coaching from NWEN’s Exec Director, or someone from the investment community.  
  2. A screening committee then whittles those 70 plans down to 20.  More coaching.
  3. Those 20 get parsed to 12.  Still more coaching.
  4. Then the even itself.  Each of the 12 gets 5 minutes in front of the most influential group of VC’s, Angels and investors in the Puget Sound.  5 finalists are chosen for 2 more minutes of pitching, and then a judging panel selects a winner.


Recap of Startup Weekend

A few quick notes on a fun event I attended the last few days.  Startup Weekend is a 54 hour event that provides the networking, resources, and incentives for individuals and teams to go from idea to launch.

In a nutshell, I was one of 80 people to show up on Friday evening, where 28 people pitched ideas for products/companies that they wanted to build in the next 2 days, with this event being focused around mobile and gaming.  We whittled the 28 ideas down to 13, and everyone split into teams to tackle the projects.  

The crowd was an eclectic mix of developers, designers, database guys, product managers and a few random biz dev and marketing guys thrown in.  I’ll admit I was a little nervous venturing into this crew.  I’m a marketing guy, so I get pretty intimidated by guys who have the technical firepower to make things suddenly appear.  But the goal of something like this is to surround yourself with big brains and meet people who inspire you through their expertise and accomplishments, so I tried to dive right in and meet as many interesting people as I could. 

The product ideas ranged form the ridiculous to the useful, to the obscure to the just plain odd.  But at the end of the weekend, a few groups had launched some pretty cool stuff.  And even though some of the projects weren’t fully baked by Sunday night, there were definitely a few things to watch out for.  A few highlights:

(Keep in mind that these projects went from an idea to execution in 54 hours…)

Nubi Nubi: A bunch of talented artists and dev guys created a little app where a little avatar would dance to the beat of music you picked for him.   You could change the dance moves by clicking on different buttons.  Cool revenue opps as you buy more avatars, dance moves, music, and more.

Doodle A Doodle: The winner of the event, this iPad app is designed so that kids can learn to draw (or trace) by tracing over images on the screen.  There’s a social network component that parents and kids can enjoy.

Hold It: The crowd favorite for humor.  In this game, you are a Men’s room Attendant, and you must coordinate what people get to use what stall in the john.  Some characters need privacy, some need space, some are obnoxious, etc…  But you must use your skill to gain points by putting people at urinals and toilets they feel comfortable at.

Happy Food:  Think a cross between Foursquare, Yelp and Urbanspoon.  This app allows you to search for restaurants that cater to special diets, such as Vega, Gluten Free, Nut Free, etc…make recommendations, and provide useful feedback.

Task Me: I dug this organizational app, even though it’s not done yet.  I spend enough time using iPhone’s Notepad as a To Do list, that this would be huge if they get it done.  Please do it guys…

There were a ton of other cool ideas, and the density of super smart people and knowledge sharing was something I hadn’t been part of for years and years.  It was amazing to see such a spirit of collaboration amongst people who don’t know each other.  Plus, many of the people there were actually doing pretty interesting things with their real job.  

Startup Weekend is one of those events where you can just go and get energized by the spirit and collective intelligence of the people in the room.  On one hand, it’s a great place to get humbled, as you see people doing things in real time that shouldn’t be possible to do that quickly.  On the other hand, you get an ego boost, because you are able to make an impact and provide your area of expertise to a group of people whose skills you admire, but who have no ability to mimic your own abilities.

I have 100 good stories to tell you about my team.  My group’s leader was a fascinating guy by the name of Michael Crick.  He would tell these random stories all thru the weekend, and many of them would make me stop what I was doing, look over with a curious stare and say, “Shut the h— up, you did not do that.”   Here’s a teaser.  I was trying to bang out a marketing plan, while Michael offhandedly told a story of a video game he built long ago.  I almost broke my neck when I asked, “Wait a sec.  You wrote the spec for the original Madden Football?” I can’t even do the rest of the stories justice in print, but trust me, they are worth buying me a beer to hear.

Moral of the story.  Whether you can market, develop, design, or whatever other talent you have, get yourself to a Startup Weekend.  Because anything else you have planned for the weekend is less fun, less interesting, and will get you less satisfaction.  Bring a good idea, build a team, and make cool stuff happen.

The Question No One is Asking About the iPad

I’m not writing a review of the iPad.  Since I’m not a tech blogger, I’ll leave that to JetCityDigital, Mashable, Jeff Jarvis, and AllThingsD.  (And yes, I did put Ron Schott in the same sentence as Walt Mossberg, so remember this post in 10 years people.)

I don’t want to debate if the iPad is a laptop killer, or simply the media companies’ attempt to put us all back in a walled garden.  I have a much simpler question.

In every publication I read, articles focus on 10% unemployment, a looming deficit, and the fact that we’re all doomed.  So why on earth do we need a laptop that’s not a laptop, or a phone that’s too big to be a phone, or a $500 way to read magazines that still cost $5 per issue to download?  The iPad seems like something we should have gotten in 1998, when we all used $100 bills as post-it notes.  But in a recession?  Who needs to drop that kind of coin on a device that serves a secondary function for all the functions we already have solutions for?

I got the iPod.  I got the iPhone.  I get Android.  I get the iPad in Tokyo or Shanghai.  I may even get the iPad in the U.S. in 2 years, or if the content was all free.  But I have to admit, I’m not sure how far “shiny” and “new” takes you in 2010 middle America…  I’m looking forward to being wrong on this…  

Why 30+ Year Olds Have More Fun on Facebook than Our Junior Counterparts

I just don’t understand when people my age tell me, “Facebook is just for kids.”  I will argue that the best part about Facebook is in fact lost on these newbies, and us more mature folks are getting the best it has to offer.

To wit: My friend’s daughter is 15.  She has something like 700 friends.  Basically every person she has ever met is on her Facebook page.  There has never been a time in her life in which she was not keenly aware of what her people were up to.

No consider the 30-something year old who is tip-toeing into Facebook for the first time.  First he finds some work friends and maybe some folks he plays soccer with.  Then a few folks from his last job.  Then a few people from the town he used to live in, then college guys and then back to high school and elementary school.  People he hasn’t talked to or heard from in 20 years are now available.

I mention this because this has happened to me twice now in the last few weeks.  An old friend from college disappeared off the planet, reappeared on Facebook and it allowed us to have lunch and catch up.  Meanwhile, the next time I’m in New York in June, I will be able to meet up with a friend I last saw in New Orleans circa 1986.  

Now, today’s 15 year olds won’t get to enjoy this type of reunion.  So I’m sticking with my story – Lil’ Green Patches and SuperPokes may be fun and all, but it’s the reconnecting with long lost friends that makes Facebook as powerful as it is.

Suck it up Haters – Twitter is here for good

I know – it still makes no sense.  And it still sounds dumb to say you “Tweeted” something.

But there are times when you have to admit things.  Like when you realized the DVD was replacing the VCR, that EVERYONE would eventually have a mobile phone, blogging was going to be here forever, and you would never again buy music that didn’t come as an .mp3.

Twitter has reached that stage.  It is here to stay.  It has enough users now that business models are being built around it, even while it doesn’t have one of its own.  And here’s the thing – it doesn’t need one.  Someone will buy it.  If you won’t listen to me, read the charts below – the ones that show 800% growth YoY.  So go get your Twitter account and stop resisting.  It’s free, it’s easy and it’s fun.  Quit making fun of it and use it.



I Become an iLemming

Well, I finally succumbed to the pressure.

Since it launched, I’ve seen proud and cheerful owners of the iPhone gleefully show off thier little toy.  In bars, in meetings, in lines at Starbucks, they tauntingly stick it into your face, showing you all the magical things it can do.

I resisted.  

I stayed true to my core Blackberry.  I like the Blackberry.  It’s easy to use.  I don’t need real time stock ticket updates or the best way to walk from the Space Needle to Palace Kitchen.  I need a phone and text, and maybe some Internet.

Saturday, something snapped.  

Suddenly I realized that the phone had changed.  I knew it before, but I finally admitted to the analogy that we’re in the mobile version of the shift from VCR to DVD, and I still owned a VCR.  And there is no reason to buy another souped up VCR.  It is no longer an issue of iPhone vs Blackberry.  It’s become an issue of mobile devices in 2009 and beyond, vs mobile devices in 2008 and prior.  I knew all of this already, but some light piece of straw finally made that camel’s back break.  And the camel asked for an iPhone.

Now I’m simply a junior member of the cult.  I look for and will listen to the teachings of those original iPhone disciples.  And I have to admit to myself that I’m more than a little excited to play with all the toys and gimmicks.  

Now, I haven’t yet stood in line and condescendingly scoffed at those simple “iNots” walking around with their pedestrian devices.  But I’m sure one day, as I breeze through Google Maps or order a video before boarding a plane, I’ll have that smug look of a full fledged cult member.  

If you are an iPhone Davidian and have a favorite “must-have” application, please let me know.

All Hail the Blogger In Chief

Inauguration day – Tears of joy, hope renewed and a feeling that we will all succeed.

Well, maybe that sentiment was felt by the general public as well, but anyone running a Social Media Marketing agency was even more pleased when the President of the United States proclaimed transparency was king and announced the White House would have a blog, communicating directly with its consumers/constituents in a conversational manner.

The news made waves around the Seattle Social Media community as well.  “Will he Twitter?”  “Will there be a White House YouTube Channel?”  “What new platforms will the White House use for Social Media?”

Any marketing effort that is being undertaken by the leader of the free world basically trumps every argument from any CEO rejecting Social Media as a valuable part of the marketing mix.  So thank you Mr. President.  You have already provided stimulus to one industry.