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Is Privacy Dead Online? – review/thoughts on an SXSW panel

Follow all my thoughts on SXSW at http://www.trogger.com/users/2

Here at SXSW, my first panel was a talk on privacy on the web, and how it is developing.

An interesting study out of NYU shows, unsurprisingly I think, that teenagers do NOT consider their home to be a private place.  Kids see home as a place controlled by their parents, who have all the power and rules. Many kids don’t really have a space of their own in the real world; even their rooms can be invaded. But lately, they have been making that space online. They know their parents cant or wont get there, wont find what they write and do, who they hang out with, etc.  How valuable is this idea of privacy online, especially when you broadcast so much personal information; who controls that information, and how much is privacy infringed by what major companies do with it?

Nowadays, a consumer’s personal information is a form of currency. Companies covet it, sell it when they have it in excess, and hoard it when they don’t.  Companies who collect personal information – facebook, myspace, google – all seem to have the most confusing and complicated of privacy policies: they don’t want you to know what they could do with your information, else you stop adding it.  They also can change the ToS at will, whenever they care to, with no warnings to you. (What are teenagers THINKING when they feel they have more power online?)

So this raises an issue: default opt-in or opt-out.  Most consumer advocates are now pushing for EVERY aspect of sharing to be opt-in: your profile is not automatically searchable on facebook, you would have to opt-in to that. Google can’t give ANY information on you away,until you say it is okay. And just checking the “ToS” box at the bottom of 20 pages of hidden meaning and convoluted text would not instantly make it all okay.

But if this becomes the norm, how much profit do these companies lose?  And do these websites lose the very things that bring us to them?  Does the ease of social networks helping you share with friends and colleagues, or the convenience of google knowing what is relevant to you outweigh the danger of that information getting to advertisers or being used maliciously? And if it cant get to advertisers, how do the companies stay alive? What is the limit?

A lot of people at SXSW are early adopters: and so they know how to hide their behavior online, where to find privacy settings, and just how much control they are giving up and information they are sharing when they use gmail, make a search query, or friend someone. But does the average American truly understand? And whose job is it to educate them? Their own? The company’s?  Should “Joe the Plumber” be required to parse through every ToS before he registers for a site and helps them make their profit?

I suppose I am of the opinion that ToS and PPs can certainly have a bunch of legal jargon, but need to be broken into clear bullets RIGHT at the top, laying out everything relevant to the user. I think information sharing that benefits the user – for recommendation or ease of use – can be opt-out, to help give the user a god experience.  I think if collections of general information is TRULY being shared anonymously, that can also be opt-out.  I think any action that gives uniquely your personal information, with or without your name, must be opt-in.

But all of this is relatively obvious, I guess.  The challenge is how to implement it while keeping VCs happy and business moving.

I did write up the ToS and PP with these bullets in mind – trying to summarize them at the top of the page to make our policies at Trogger clear.  Thoughts on how to improve them?

Find that Entrepreneurial Valentine.

I’ve talked about how to get and prepare for your first Investor Meeting.  With Valentine’s Day coming up, I figured some tips on getting and preparing for a first romantic date would be more helpful for the season.  (This post will be very hetero-normative, and aimed primarily at geeky/start-up men.  Here are some neat articles for those this will annoy, like it normally would me.)

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Through my attendance at SF Beta, I’ve come to notice that there are a lot of single, intelligent, and interested tech boys out there, as well as women who are interested in finding them (yes men, they do exist).  Yet somehow, the meeting happens, and its all down hill from there…

So for the start-up men out there that I have come to know and love, here is some advice for chatting up that potential Valentine:

THE APPROACH:

  1. Approach.  Before working on how to approach, you must first start the approach.  If you don’t have the confidence to come to me, I’m not going to waste my time going to you.  Yes, I noticed you staring at me from the door; I’m just choosing to ignore you till you get some balls.
  2. Have confidence, not ego. Approach with a smile, head held high, and a willing hand shake.  But do not approach with all of your successes and greatness on your lips.

THE CONVERSATION:

  1. Have a conversation ready.  Do not come up to me, introduce yourself, and then expect me to fall head over heels that instant.  Be ready to talk and not stand with an awkward grin.
  2. A conversation takes two. Do not come up to me and leap into your newest start-up idea, a great technology you developed, or the tech gossip of the minute.  If my responses are fewer than 4 words, I either don’t care or you aren’t letting me speak.  I might as well just read your blog and leave you talking to the wall.
  3. Have a question ready. This falls in line with #1 and 2.  (“How are you?” doesn’t count).  We have Facebook now; do some stalking, and at least pretend you have an interest in my life and want to engage in more than physical intercourse with me.
  4. Don’t push too hard. Make me want more.  If you hang around me for more than 20 minutes at a mixer, our conversation better be damned good.  Otherwise, end it BEFORE it winds down and gets dull.  “Oh, I’m sorry.  My friend just got here.  Let’s catch up later (hand me your card).”  If, up until this point, things were going well, I will get back to you.
  5. A Card is not a Call To Action. I take back the “(hand me your card)”, above.  Think back to design school: have a Call to Action.  As you are leaving, let me know “It’s been great talking to you.  Do you have a card?  I’d love to catch up more later, ideally somewhere quieter.”  If she says no, give her yours, but make it clear you are honestly interested in talking.  On the same note, if I just hand you my card, thank you, and walk away, it does not always mean I am interested.  Don’t give up, but don’t get your hopes too high.

FOLLOW-UP

  1. Email first. Some girls will disagree with me here, but I hate when a guy calls me out of the blue.  I may not remember who you are, where I know you, or why you are calling; and your phone call just makes it uncomfortable.  I prefer getting an email or gchat first, and then taking it to the phone.
  2. A date is NOT a business meeting. Don’t trick me; be clear so I know what I am getting into.  I HATE when men ask if we can get dinner to discuss business.  Occasionally, people DO want to meet with me to talk business (surprise, surprise).  It’s one thing to say “I’d like to take you out to dinner.  I’m interested in learning more about what you do.” – That’s clearly a pick-up, thank you.  It’s another to say “I’d love to chat with you about a business venture I have.  Free for dinner next week?” – Ambiguity sucks.
  3. Dinner is a date.  Lunch is a meeting*.  Weekends are always dates. This is good to know whenever you are asking to take a woman out.  Be honest about what you want and pick an appropriate time.  (*If you have made it clear this is NOT a meeting, than know that Lunch is casual)
  4. Don’t get let down. You will get rejected, politely turned down, snubbed, ignored, etc.  But if you stay positive, hopeful, and strong while you are single, you will get dates as well.  The worst thing is the smell of desperation, so just relax and have a good time.  :)


Investment is dead. Social Media thins. Now What?

ADAPT

Now, we are luckier than most start-ups.  Due to the success of Room Full of People, SF Beta, and SNAP Summit we have enough in the bank to get by all right for about 3-6 months, depending on how close we cut our bills.  We’ve cut office space, gym memberships, corporate drinks, our skype account, and are reducing our pay checks and cell phone bills to help it last longer.  (Any other trimming suggestions are appreciated.)  But we will need to get money from somewhere to grow.

But all the investment has dried up; the angels have flown home, and the VCs have the “No” on their Vacancy signs lit.  The only place I should even waste any time looking are a few of the early-stage VCs and angel forums, and only then with incredibly low hopes.

ADAPT

Alright.  So, we need to secure users, traction, and reliable growth right at the start.  We need to see ad revenue, interest in private Troggs for companies, and discussion ownership – IOW, money.  But a lot of bloggers and analysts suggest that the trend of 2009 will be to defriend; to scale back your social network engagement and chose quality over quantity, to really prioritize who you want to get feeds from.  Uh-oh.  Will adding yet another social media site to the mix truly help?

ADAPT

Well first things first; we need to reassess our own views of Trogger.  It may mean drastic changes and redesigns, or it may just mean a tweak in our perceptions; I certainly hope for the latter.  The strongest trait a start-up has over its corporate competition is quick adaptability.  And if you don’t have that, you’re f-d.

I have begun encouraging my business partners to view Trogger not as another wad of gum stuck under the pubescent-teen-that-is-social-media’s desk, but as a pod on the bean sprout of information organization (which could wither and die, be eaten and passed, or fall and grow into another).

My own new perception is:  We have Wikipedia for user-generated “facts”; but where do you go when you want a collection of people’s opinions on a the Israel/Gaza conflict, on the growing trend for corporate iPhone Apps, on the economic situation, or the shut-down of Circuit City?  You go to CNN for one, a few blogs for another, a forum here and a message board there for the third and fourth.  We need a wikipedia for opinions, I say.  And that is what I, personally, want to see this become. (I write this without my biz partners’ agreements, yet, but I’ll be sure to include our summaries of our discussions about this idea here.)

The most important thing I foresee us learning through this process if the overwhelming power of adaptability.  A start-up that has an idea and sticks to it, determined to see it to its first envisioned and planned completion, is doomed.  You alone do not have the idea for the next Google or Microsoft or Facebook.  It comes from iterations, from user testing, from failure.  In my last post I discussed the two opposing traits founders must have (dreamer vs. pracical); here is another, darker trait that is important to keep balanced.  Christian sees and works for success.  I plan for and work against failure. This is our first social med…er…information start-up.  9 out of 10 folks, without even listening to the idea, will bet against our success.

So here we go.  A new year and a new vision for me, a new thought to keep me striving and studying for another day, and loving that a person can’t lay-off themselves.  :)

Partners and Advisors

So as the three of us are working together, we are also discussing what skills we have and what we need; what players are missing from our table.  Perhaps some of the readers may know better than us, and can lend their two cents in the comments, but here is what we have come to learn so far re: the development of an early-stage team:

DETERMINE YOUR STRENGTHS
Well of course, the first thing is to assess what you are bringing to the table.  Are you an experienced entrepreneur?  A CEO or COO?  A front end designer/developer?  A back end programmer?  Or even just the person with the money? I have found that sone of the most important things to assess are:

  • Are you a talker or a listener?
  • Are you creative, with big ideas and tons of inspiration, or are you grounded and practical, tweaking what you are given?
  • Are you a planner or a doer?
  • Are you a developer?  If so, is it front end or back end?  Would you architect a whole site and database, or do small detailed projects?

Once you’ve figure these out, you need to…

FIND A BALANCED PARTNER
While there are start-ups founded by one person, you will almost always see the most successful to have pairs.  And usually the pairs are made up of one outgoing partner, and then a quieter supportive one: Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Steve Jobs and Wozniak, Larry Ellison and Bob Minor…the list goes on.  I, personally, feel that you simply need another person to bounce ideas off of, to help the thing that exists grow.  I think that, regardless of your other skills – whether they be finance, design, programming, business – there are two types of founders out there, and you better be damn sure you have both.

Big Ideas/Creative
On our team, I frequently consider Christian to be this individual.  He brainstorms ideas from nothing, just imagining something he would want and figuring out how best to do it.  He can envision it on a huge scale, how it changes people’s interactions, or redefines an industry, or draws hundreds of millions of users.  He can discover five solutions to problems that haven’t even been encountered yet, and throw out three more if those arn’t liked.  He would like nothing better than to be in a room with a bunch of intelligent and creative thinkers, dreaming up a project and how to build it.  People like this are necessary for a company to grow and prosper.  He keeps us motivated and inspired; he reminds us we are doing this, keeps us thinking and sharing and reaching for our goals.  Thankfully, he can also get into a project and think practically, too, which is important…

Small Ideas/Practical
I consider myself, and am frequently referred to, as the practical one of the group, the grounded partner.  Its hard for me to dream big when I know our user count will just pass 50 on launch.  I enjoy being given a big idea and refine it, recognizing its weaknesses and developing solutions, assessing time lines and priorities and keeping people focused and down to earth.  I’m always watching the numbers: the bank account and the days until its empty, the number of users and their satisfaction.  I’m working on the small projects: how do get more invites sent, better metric technology, more balanced gold economy.  I’ll politely listen to new ideas, find a place for them, and remind people of what our top priorities are now.  These people, ideally, tame the big thinker and help the company make its way toward a world changing endeavor.

DEVELOP THE TEAM
Now, you do need more than just two people, but you should keep a good balance between the two categories above.  Everyone on an early stage start-up should share pieces of both of those categories, I think, but the dynamic of your team should definitely favor the practical: you’ve had the idea, now you need to do it with a minimal amount of changes and bickering.  You will need a CEO, COO, CTO, and CFO type.  Practical skills for early-stage employees to have include knowledge of SEO, metrics, financial forms and strategies, small business development, PR experience and connections, a variety of programming languages specializing in the one you use, and of course social web experience.

FIND ADVISORS
Keep in mind that your advisers are generally not people who have a lot of time to give, so don’t rely on them to build your metrics gathering system or design your logo.  But they should be dedicated to seeing you reach success and happy to look over your products and examples, offer advice, and make introductions for you.  I first suggest you find someone who understands raising money and financing.  Someone who knows VCs and angels, how to approach them, what to have prepared, etc.  The second would be someone highly experienced in your field.  Working on a social network?  Get a high-up from Facebook, Myspace, Bebo, or Hi5.  Making some video sharing thing?  Look to people with YouTube, Rev3, Ustream, or Seesmic experience.  Have a huge tagging aspect?  Try Flickr, Delicious, or WordPress.  These people know the technology and how to access the market.  By this point, ask them who else they think you should have – if they are good advisers, they’ll know.  Usually, someone experienced in Biz Dev and someone well known in the world to evangelize your product are useful.
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But wait!, you say.  How can I hire and pay all these people without any funding?  When can I raise money? A good question, and one that depends entirely on your situation.

I ONLY HAVE AN IDEA
Tough cookies.  There was a time when you could take just an idea and some drawing to an angel and still get seed-level funding.  With the economy going how it is, those times are pretty far past.  I don’t want to say it is impossible, as I’m sure someone could come forward with an example of it happening recently, but its tough.  Its the real Black Swan.  Most early-stage investors at least want a team of founders, a prototype, and generally even some traction (even if its just showing that a few hundred of your FB friends have been using it in beta testing for a few weeks, and havent left.)   You can certainly try to raise money with just an idea, but it’ll be REALLY tough right now.

I HAVE FOUND PEOPLE WHO WILL WORK FOR FREE (for now)
Well lucky you; don’t go flaunting that fact too heavily, or someone else will try to recruit them.  In fact, make sure these people are incredibly tied to your idea, that they have a lot of faith in you and wouldn’t leave for somewhere else just because that place can pay them.  Think carefully about giving these people a founding status (and ammount of equity) or atleast a founding-employee.  So now, with your idea, a good developer or 2 (dont have more than 3 this early on, I suggest…too many cooks and all.), a person to focus on raising money somehow, and a person to work on user growth – start making a site.  Once you’ve got a prototype ready, ask for lunches with possible investors (see my post on these) and chat with them; peak their interest.  Then make a deck and elevator pitch(<-great advice) and start sending it around.  Definitely have images from your prototype in it.  You should be doing a lot of alpha testing (which I’ll discuss in a later post) while these early meeting are going on, so you have user testimonials and traction to show at the next meeting you hopefully get invited to.  From there on, its a lot of luck and negotiating.  (PS: While not necessary, having a good advisor that can intro you to the people and name drop from you is definitely helpful!)

I HAVE (an) ADVISER(s)
Then why are you asking me?  Go talk to them about funding and hiring.  Ask about how you may be able to attract people using small ammount of equity and promising back-pay.  See if they can help you with decks and elevator pitches and cap tables and the like.  Hopefully, if they are good, they can begin introducing you to VCs, angels, and other possible early-stage employees.

New Tech Presentation Advice

So this is a little different, but I was New Year cleaning out my macbook pro, and found this.  As I worked in the event industry, I saw quite a few presenters, all with varying degrees of skill.  Just knowing an area of interest is not enough.  In fact, I would much rather hear an experienced and skilled public speaker talk about something they know decently then a pro who is terrible in front of people.

But sometimes you are just asked to speak, and you want the press and the opportunity, but dont have much experience.  Well here are a few tips to keep in mind that should help you out, developed from seeing truly the whole range of abilities.

How To Present To A Web 2.0 Crowd:

Speaking in front of any large group of people is challenging.  Now, make your audience 300 – 700 entrepreneurs, founders, venture capitalists, C-level and VP-level execs, and other individuals, many of which think they know more about the topic than you (and, in fact, may); now you’ve got a real challenge.

After having watched dozens of presentations, we at Room Full of People are happy to offer a bit of advice.  You certainly do not need to take it.  The most important thing is that you be confident and comfortable; so do what feels best for you.  These are just to give you some guidance.

•    Know your audience.  Ask us for a breakdown of the current and predicted attendees.  Cater your presentation to them as best you can.

•    Do not read from your presentation slides.  In fact, your slides should have very few words on them; they should be primarily helpful images and key points to guide the talk and discussion.  People paid to hear you; they could read your work online for free.

•    Be concise.  Know what your time limit is, and plan to talk five minutes less than you are scheduled.  Practice so you don’t go on unnecessary tangents.  Don’t stutter or hesitate.

•    Think first.  When you get an audience question, pause a moment, think, then speak.  Do not feel pressured to answer immediately or say more than is necessary. (eg. if it is a “yes” or “no” question, answer “yes” or “no”, and clarify only if appropriate.)

•    Have a nice balance between presenting and taking questions.  Your presentation should include new, opinionated, divisive, and/or debatable points; do not be afraid of conflict, as it leads to great Q&A sessions.
o    If can read and control your audience, take questions throughout the whole presentation.  It keeps the audience engaged.
o    However, if you are more comfortable with a specific Q&A session, than do that, or the audience will take over.  We have found  that a 50/50 or 60/30 break down of the time works well.

•    DO NOT PITCH! You can mention your company and background, to add credibility to yourself, but do not talk about  your company.  Your presentation should be informative and relevant to an issue in the field, not a commercial.  If you are interesting, people will come up to you afterwords and ask about your company.  If you are a pitch, they will ignore you.
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Keep your eyes on our blog – I plan to write up one of these for small demos, and presentation demos as well.  :)

Eight Ways to Unwind From Work and Relax

Writer: Christian Perry

Cassie recently wrote an awesome post on Self-Motivation and Productivity. (Thanks, Cassie!) I thought I’d follow up by writing a complimentary post on relaxation.

As anyone who’s ever started a company knows, startups are challenging work. Not only do they demand a huge amount of time, but they can also absorb you in emotionally and mentally, such that it gets difficult to separate yourself from your day job. (Or more accurately, your day-and-night-and-weekend job.)

Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love my work, and I wouldn’t be doing anything differently. That said, I feel that I do my best work when I’m calm, collected, and relaxed — and all those things require a wee bit of not working. So with that said, here are eight things that help me unwind from a busy day at the office:

Take a Computer Sabbath
walterrollonshabbosFollowing in the footsteps of The Big Lebowski‘s Walter, I take off every Saturday as a sort of Computer Sabbath. The rule is simple: no laptop, and no email. By taking off one day a week, I can decompress from a long workweek, and focus on all the things that can’t be done in front of a computer screen.

Take a bath
One night, when I was feeling stressed out, my girlfriend suggested I take a bath. She swore by them, she told me, and promised that I’d feel better the moment I got in. I gave it a shot, and never looked back. Moral of the story: listen to your girlfriend.

Play an instrument
For a number of years I’ve played the Irish flute. On a good morning, I’ll hop right out of bed, and spend a half hour playing a lively set of reels, jigs, and airs. I’ve noticed a subtle but consistent boost in my mood when I start the morning off with music, as oppose to the dread-inducing drone of the alarm clock.

Meditate
My mom started practicing Zen meditation before I was born, and introduced me to the practice when I was a lad of 16. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked. I sit a half-hour a day, usually at night before going to bed. No matter how intense a day I’ve had, it’s amazing how quickly all those thoughts and stresses melt away.

Stretch and do Yoga
The human body isn’t meant to sit in a chair for eight hours a day, but apparently this rule hasn’t been communicated to startup founders, whose habits would make you think the human race is slowly evolving to be tetris-block-shaped. After a day of sitting, stretching pays amazing dividends: it loosens up my body, improves my mood, and guards against nasty things like carpal tunnel syndrome.

Read for fun
I love non-fiction. On the weekends, you’ll usually find my nose in some meaty text or another. (Check out my GoodReads bookshelf for a list of what I’ve been perusing recently.) That said, I also love fiction — in particular, a juicy, pulpy fantasy novel — and nothing helps me drift off to sleep better than reading a few chapters in a book that stokes my imagination. (Check out A Game of Thrones and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, two of my favorites.)

Exercise
After hours upon hours of sitting sedentary, nothing quite beats the feeling of moving around and breaking a sweat. Since I work in downtown San Francsico, I got a membership to Crunch, a decent gym where I hit the treadmills a couple times a week. Exersize seems pretty close to a too-good-to-be-true type of deal: it makes you lose weight, look sexy, feel better, AND might even make you smarter. What’s not to love?

Get out of town
With everything I’ve just written about, I probably sound like a pillar of serenity. The reality couldn’t be farther off. Despite all the things I do to relax, I still face the same stress as anyone living a busy life in a busy city. My days are long, my schedule is packed, and there are ten times as many things as I want to do as I have time for. So what do I find to be the best way to break out of city life? I leave! I’m rarely as relaxed as when I’m back home with my family in Princeton, New Jersey, or leaving the Bay Area to visit friends.

Everything on this list is easy to do (besides the musical instrument), and comes to you highly recommended. By incorporating relaxation into your schedule, you’ll give yourself the necessary steps to work hard without burning out.