Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Goodbye Steve Jobs

I’ve been very distracted and unproductive today since reading yesterday’s news of Steve Jobs’ death, on my iPhone, of course. While not at all unexpected, it still somehow felt quite sudden to me, and I’ve been spending my time since I heard the news watching the amazing outpouring of emotion and reflection on his life and his impact on the world in my news feeds on Twitter and Facebook. He was an icon, and I’ve certainly haven’t felt this emotional at the passing of a public figure before. I guess he was my generation’s John Lennon or even John F. Kennedy, but I’d argue his ongoing impact on the world is broader reaching and more profound than either of those two.

I never met the man – the closest I got was brushing past him in the tight aisles of the Whole Foods Market in Palo Alto, but still I felt like I knew him (clearly I was not the only one) and I was inspired by him as an entrepreneur, a product visionary, a technologist, a showman, a marketer, a designer, an artist, a filmmaker, a CEO, and a fearless icon of what’s possible when you have an unswerving commitment to excellence in all things.

While I doubt I’m adding anything fundamentally new here, I do feel compelled to add my views to the torrent of thoughts that have been flowing since October 5th’s news.

My first Apple computer was the Mac SE 30 that my parents bought me (thanks Mom & Dad!) when I started school at Stanford in 1989. Prior to that, I taught myself to program BASIC and learned about hexadecimal notation, shape tables and basic 6502 assembly code on the Franklin Ace 1000 my parents bought when I was in junior high school, which was an Apple ][ clone. Since then, I’ve owned dozens of Apple devices, and take quiet pride in the fact that all my partners at Foundry Group now use Macintosh computers, which was not the case when I moved from California to Boulder, CO to help get Foundry Group off the ground. Happily, they all freely admit their computing lives have become dramatically simpler since they made the switch.

His incredible accomplishments are covered in detail all over the web, but they bear mentioning here, albeit briefly. He started the PC revolution from a Palo Alto garage. He brought the mouse/windows GUI paradigm to the masses with the Macintosh. He ushered in the desktop printing revolution by adopting Adobe’s Postscript technology in the Apple LaserWriter. The Macintosh was long the platform of choice in the world of professional audio and video. After getting kicked out of his own company, he left to create NeXT, which ultimately became the foundation of Mac OSX and brought (stealthily) UNIX into the lives of millions of consumers. He transformed Hollywood and computer animation with his rescue/purchase of Pixar. He mainstreamed portable digital audio music players with the launch of the iPod and transformed Apple from a computer company to a consumer electronics company. He brought the music industry into the digital age with the iTunes Music Store and made his company a force to be reckoned with in the digital media landscape as the largest online retailer of music.

Amazingly, at this point, the pace of disruptive technologies and products that came out of Apple accelerated. The iPhone launched, breaking the wireless carriers’ stranglehold control over phone hardware and software, unleashing a huge amount of innovation that the carriers had been preventing, which not only enable Apple to succeed in this market but also paved the way for the success of Android. The iPhone was unlike any smartphone yet seen, and as Mark Andreessen has said, it was as if it had dropped through a wormhole from five years in the future. Competitors like RIM actually reacted to the launch of the iPhone in disbelief and denied that it could possibly do what Jobs claimed in his unveiling of the original iPhone. And while Jobs & Co didn’t envision the potential of an app ecosystem on the initial iPhone, they were smart enough to recognize the obvious demand as developers and end-users started jail-breaking iPhones, and they moved to open up the system and allow third-party developers a seamless and lucrative way to make their apps available to a huge audience of willing customers. The iOS app ecosystem is now a profoundly important part of today’s technology landscape and unleashed a new wave of innovation and investment opportunity.

And, finally, the iPad. I will admit that this was the product launch I was most dubious about. Even as an Apple fanboy, I was not convinced the world needed a device category between smartphones and laptops. I was skeptical and thought the iPad might wind up a jackalope-type product that didn’t fit any real market need. Of course, my family now owns three iPads, and I use the device daily. Once again, Jobs’ instincts and “no focus groups” orthodoxy nailed it and created a hit product which established a new category, one in which Apple is waiting for a truly worthy competitive product to emerge, even after they launched their second-gen iPad 2. What’s the next act? Maybe the rumored Apple Television will one day emerge – if any company can rethink the fundamental challenges around the living room “lean back” remote-control user experience, it is Apple.

In the end, a few core principles guided his approach to the world, which made him perhaps the greatest CEO of all time and brought Apple to its current position as the most valuable technology company it the world. Steve elevated Design (with a capital D) to a core value in all Apple products and brought beauty to the previously often ugly world of technology. He focused relentlessly on user-centric design and understood the value of editing a product down to his essence, and that choosing what to remove from a product was at least as important as choosing what to put in. He had the courage to cannibalize his own successful products by introducing newer models at that obsoleted the old at the height of their popularity. And he actively resisted dogmatic thought. Apple is the only truly vertically integrated consumer electronics company out there: they design their own chips, their own hardware, do their own industrial design, build their own firmware and software, and created an ecosystem of services surrounding their devices. It is because of this that they have been able to design such elegant products that no competitor has been able to touch. Yet, particularly in Apple’s darkest days, conventional wisdom said that Apple was failing because of its vertical integration. They were failing because they hadn’t left the chip design to Intel, the OS to Microsoft, the hardware to the likes of Dell and the software to 10,000 independent ISVs. Apple’s current market dominance must have been sweet vindication of Jobs’ long-view thinking and core beliefs.

Jobs was a true iconoclast and his impact will be felt for years to come. The world and the future won’t be the same without him shaping it. I’ll miss you Steve.

As a final note, I leave you with Steve’s now famous (and perhaps best ever) commencement speech he gave at Stanford in 2005:

October 6th, 2011     Categories: Uncategorized    

Foundry Group’s First Music Video: I’m a VC

My partners and I have been cooking up this video over the summer, and we’re finally ready to release it to the world. Jason and Brad recently released a book called Venture Deals, and Jason decided that releasing a music video was the best way to market the book. (Isn’t that obvious?)

Jason (my bandmate for over a decade) wrote the music and lyrics for this (very) tongue-in-cheek song, and I have to say, it is rather catchy. Despite my general skepticism about parody, Jason’s songwriting skills won me over.

After he put the instrumental tracks together without touching a single real instrument, thanks to the power of Apple’s GarageBand, we headed to Jason’s recording studio, where Jason laid down the lead vocals and the rest of us laid down the backing vocals. Then we proceeded to shoot the video on location in Boulder during a day-long photo shoot in late June, also under the direction of Jason “Auteur” Mendelson. I have to say, I think Seth steals the show with his beard and blue suit.

Hope you enjoy it. Here it is:


If you’ve read this far, you might even want to read the lyrics. Here they are:

I’m a VC

Words & Music by Jason A. Mendelson © 2011

You know, I just want to tell you. Tell you.
It’s been great gettin’ to know a little about you. About you.
And I wonder, should we be together?
Should we commit to each other for today and forever? Forever.

Hey, you’ve been on my mind
Been at least a few hours, since I’ve seen your slides Since I met you at the Rosewood, or was it South By? Time for us to talk, about our future lives

I know you, you want me, I might want you too
Let’s share your deepest secrets, and find if I can trust in you
I like you, just maybe, you’ve got a clue
Meet my partners on a Monday, we’ll see if they can dig you too

‘Cause I’m a VC, I’m a VC
I drive around a Prius and I meet over sushi I’m a VC, oh ho
Who are you?

‘Cause I’m a VC, I’m a VC
It takes more than Powerpoint slides to impress me I’m a VC, oh ho
Who are you?

Hey, will you ever learn?
It’s all about the feelings, not the legal terms When you mentioned NDA, I got concerned Don’t want to fall in love and then get burned

Twenty pre? I can’t believe, you think that’s cheap
For a company you started with your dog last week
Let’s back up, let’s do Buck’s, I’ll wear my favorite khakis You can buy the lattes, and we’ll climb under the term sheets

‘Cause I’m a VC, I’m a VC
I’m the guy people stand in line to meet me I’m a VC, oh ho
Who are you?

‘Cause I’m a VC, I’m a VC
Don’t go with friends and family ‘cause you complete me I’m a VC, oh ho
Who are you?

Series A. I like what I see
Series B. You’re the one for me Series C. Don’t dilute me
Series D. Starting to get cold feet Series E. Oh no
Series F. Where’s my IPO? Series G. Gettin’ low
Series H. Time to go home

Hey, do you feel it baby?
Because you know VCs, I’m a definite maybe
Sorry I’ve been gone, I’ve been a little crazy
At the end of the day, it’s all about the Hamiltons, baby

I know you, you seem great, I love what you’re debuting
But I’ve got so many other deals that I’m now reviewing
It’s not you, it’s just me, I’ve got so many wooing
Like the Chinese knock-off of what your team is so good doing

‘Cause I’m a VC, I’m a VC
Can’t take a leak without people who pitch me I’m a VC, oh ho
Who are you?

‘Cause I’m a VC, I’m a VC
With my Wonder Twin powers no f*cker can beat me I’m a VC, oh ho
Who are you?

‘Cause I’m a VC, I’m a VC
Stanford, Harvard educated, even MIT I’m a VC, oh ho
Who are you?

‘Cause I’m a VC, I’m a VC
If you need to find me check out Facebook, LinkedIn or tweet me I’m a VC, oh ho
Who are you?

September 6th, 2011     Categories: Uncategorized    

Do More Faster

My partner Brad Feld and TechStars CEO David Cohen just wrote a book called Do More Faster, which will be released in a week or so, and is presently available for pre-order on Amazon. In keeping with the title of the book, they have put together a compelling book in record time; they did so by leveraging a network of contributing authors, including yours truly.

My chapter is entitled “Use Your Head, then Trust Your Gut”, and in it I reflect on the fact that founders of technology companies in particular have a huge amount of data at their disposal: real-time sales information, user behavior analytics and a huge amount of advice coming at them from board members, investors, advisors and countless other humans who have often strong opinions on how a start-up should be run.

One of the great balancing acts an entrepreneur must perform is synthesizing all of these inputs (many of which are conflicting) and then charting a decisive course of action. When done well, this involves a blend of art and science and qualitative and quantitative thinking.<

In addition to my small contribution to this book, Brad and David assembled dozens of chapters from mentors, company founders and others involved in TechStars into seven themes: Idea and Vision, People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal and Structure, and Work and Life Balance.

This book is a must-read for anyone involved in the creation of early-stage technology startups, so head over to Amazon and order a copy now.

October 4th, 2010     Categories: Uncategorized    

Disk is the New Tape

I came across this gem at Data Center Knowledge, mentioning Twitter’s plans to move into their own data center, having outgrown the managed hosting services they use at NTT America. The article includes a great slide deck by Twitter’s John Adams entitled Scaling Twitter, and was presented at this week’s Chirp 2010 conference, which, sadly, I was unable to attend. There’s a ton of great stuff in here detailing some of the techniques, tools and technologies (including current darlings like Kestrel and Cassandra) that Twitter has used to scale their service in the face of 752% growth in 2008 followed by growth in 2009, a feat somewhat akin to upgrading a jet engine in flight.

But my favorite slide in the presentation is the one entitled “Disk is the new Tape”, which refers to the heavy I/O challenges that social graph applications face. Disk is just way too slow for most Web2.0 applications, which means apps need lots of RAM and must focus on techniques that minimize disk access at all costs in order to provide reasonable (sub 500ms) response times.

Clearly smart software like Kestrel and Cassandra, which are built from the ground up to run in highly distributed environments have enabled the building of apps at internet scale, but it does also suggest that server (and data center) architectures must evolve over time too — moving hard drives out of the critical path (perhaps transitioning to SSDs for non-volatile storage as costs fall?) and thereby relegating hard disks to offline archival storage, a fate met by tape drives years ago.

April 16th, 2010     Categories: Uncategorized    

An Audio Engineering Arthur C. Clarke Moment

Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote that, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Well, today I read about a new audio editing that performs magic: Melodyne Editor.

As readers of this blog know, I’m a guitarist and hobbyist recording engineer. I built out a ProTools HD recording studio in my converted garage in Portola Valley, CA back in the day, and my band Soul Patch recorded our two albums there, which we released on our label, Toothless Monkey Music, and numerous other albums were recorded there by my band-mate Nick Peters, who now runs his own label and studio (Bodydeep Music) out in Redwood City, CA.

Please pardon what follows – it is a bit of audio geekery, but anyone who is even superficially familiar with the capabilities of modern digital recording systems will likely be slack-jawed in disbelief when I explain what Melodyne Editor can do. (I have to give a tip of the hat to Thomas Dolby — I’ve been a long-time reader of his blog (and fan of his music), and it was his blog post that made me aware of this amazing tool.)

Anyway, all of this background is just to say that I know my way around digital audio and signal processing plugins. I’ve been a long-time fan and user of AutoTune (quite useful for cleaning up “almost right” vocal takes), which, amazingly, can put out-of-tune vocals back in tune. AutoTune is an example of pure technology magic, though some lament the effect it has had on musicianship and vocal performance.

Then, a couple years ago, I began experimenting with a new pitch processing audio editor called Melodyne. Not only did Melodyne offer the ability to correct out-of-tune instruments or vocals, but it broke the audio waveform down into discrete notes that could be slid around in pitch and time using a graphic editor. This took a step beyond AutoTune – not only could you tweak the pitch of a performance, you could actually move the notes around with your mouse in pitch and time. You could literally alter the melody and rhythm of a vocal or instrumental performance by dragging your mouse around. Pretty amazing, right?

Of course, as amazing as these pitch (and time) audio processing tools are, they have a big constraint: they only worked with monophonic material. You needed a track with a single singer on it, or an instrument that only plays one note at a time: this left out most parts performed by pianos, guitars, vocal choirs, a horn section or an entire symphony. Basically if any of the audio in which you wanted to fix pitch problems contained chords (more than one note played simultaneously) on the track, you were out of luck.

The newest version of Melodyne does something most in the audio world have considered impossible: it allows the editing of polyphonic material. You can literally reach inside a guitar track and retune an individual note within a chord. Or find an out-of-tune singer in a group of backup singers and fix just that singer’s out-of-tune note.

This, my friends, is magic. And one step closer to what I’ve long considered my ultimate fantasy audio engineering tool: software that could take a mono or stereo mixdown of a song, and break it out into a multitrack representation of each individual remix. This would allow anyone to take a favorite song, break it into its component parts and build a remix. There are many reasons why this is probably far more difficult than pitch shifting individual notes in harmonic material, but if anyone could pull this off, my bet is on the wizards at Celemony. Wow.

Note: check out this video on Celemony’s website (sorry no embed code) to see what some serious pros (like Herbie Hancock) think about Melodyne. If you watch long enough, you’ll find Living Color guitarist Vernon Reid refers to Arthur C. Clarke famous aphorism as well, which I didn’t discover until after I wrote this post!

April 9th, 2010     Categories: Uncategorized    

Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution

A few weeks ago, during my family’s Spring Break vacation, I had the pleasure of reading a great history of George Lucas and the massive impact he and the extended Lucasfilm family had on the technology behind filmmaking, and, ultimately on the broader technology ecosystem. This book is exhaustively researched and is almost textbook-like in its presentation of annotated photos and topic-specific sidebars. Unlike a text-book, however, it is a real page-turner. I devoured Droidmaker in a few days sitting poolside in Hawaii, Mai Tais firmly in hand.

What was most enjoyable about this book is it is not simply a George Lucas biography – while Lucas is (obviously) the main figure in the book, author Michael Rubin (full disclosure: he’s an old buddy of mine) does an excellent job placing Lucas and his mentor-colleague Francis Ford Coppala in the context of filmmaking history. Rubin deftly illuminates how their collaboration and competition served to move the filmmaking techniques and technology forward, way up in Northern California, far removed the ossified and technophobic power center of Hollywood. Rubin worked at Lucasfilm early in his career and enjoyed personal access to many of the seminal figures in this book, including Pixar founders Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith as well as George Lucas himself.

There’s plenty of nerd-fodder in here too. Rubin is comfortable discussing the technological intricacies behind video vs. film, frame buffers, computer generated animation, stop-motion photography, 3D rendering and more. I happily geeked out on the discussions of frame rates of film vs. video and 3:2 pulldown techniques used to transfer film to video. The masterstroke in this vein is the discussion of how the guys in the computer division (which later became spun out as Pixar, when Steve Jobs bought the team and technology from Lucas) simultaneously solved the thorny problems of eliminating image jaggies and creating motion-blur in computer-generated graphics. In a single moment of insight (after working for years on both problems), they realized that temporal and spatial randomized sampling while rendering each frame of a computer animation were the key to making the final product look realistic. Or, more specifically, film-like.

The discussion of the technology are informative and approachable even for the non-technical reader (though I admit to having some exposure to the intricacies of digital media editing as a life-long musician and occasional digital audio engineer). These tech discussions reminded me of another great tech history book I read and reviewed recently: Racing the Beam, which is the history of the Atari 2600 game console.

Droidmaker is a great read and really made me appreciate the immense contribution Lucas made to filmmaking but also to digital media technology in general: his personal investment (to the tune of tens of millions of dollars) in fundamental R&D in computer animation and digital audio and video editing in the late ’70s and well through the 80′s led not only to seminal companies that were birthed at Lucasfilm, like Pixar and THX, but also deeply influenced the broader path of technology evolution that led to the emergence of independent companies like Avid (digital video editing) and Digidesign (digital audio recording and editing with the ProTools platform).

So go pick up a copy already!

April 8th, 2010     Categories: Uncategorized    

Pogoplug in the News

The fine folks at Cloud Engines, makers of my favorite consumer electronics gadget, the pogoplug, have been very busy in 2010. They launched at retail here in the US and Canada and followed quickly with announcing availability of the pogoplug in the UK and Europe. It has been fun to start seeing French and German showing up in the pogoplug twitter stream.

They’ve been receiving a flurry of great product reviews, including a 9/10 rating from The Inquirer in the UK and a five-star rating and an Editor’s Choice Award from Cnet-France.

Back here in the US, the pogoplug was just reviewed by Katherine Boehret in the WSJ in the Mossberg Solution. She also did a video review of the device, which you can watch below.

I’m also super-excited for a bunch of new features that will roll out for the pogoplug over the next couple months. Stay tuned…


February 24th, 2010     Categories: Uncategorized    

Apostrophes and Plurals Don’t Mix

Warning: grammar rant ahead…

FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, PEOPLE, NEVER EVER USE AN APOSTROPHE WHEN PLURALIZING A WORD!

Sorry, I had to get that off my chest. I don’t know what is so confusing about this, but I encounter this mistake many times a day. Because I had an excellent English teacher in high school who was a big influence on me (thank you, Mrs. Noland), I am known among my friends and colleagues as a bit of a grammar nazi. In fact, I am a proud member of the Facebook group I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar. I am comfortable with this.

If you are writing anything for public consumption, using bad grammar and misspelling words makes you look, at worst, unintelligent, and, at best, careless.

While I can overlook many grammatical errors that result from misunderstanding subtler nuances of the English language, this particular rule is so easy, I can’t understand where the source of confusion comes from. Apostrophes are for contractions and possessives. Never for plurals.

I understand that keeping it’s vs. its straight can be tricky, since its is the one case where there is no apostrophe in a possessive, but this still has nothing to do with pluralization.

So get it straight, people. Please.

Repeat after me: I will never use an apostrophe when pluralizing a word.

Ahh, I feel much better.

I should also mention that I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar has been turned into a very amusing book, which my friend Amy was nice enough to give to me a few days ago – she knows me well. I highly recommend the hard copy version.

February 23rd, 2010     Categories: Uncategorized    

Topspin and the Future of Music Marketing

I’ve had the pleasure of working with the fine folks at Topspin Media since I joined the board of the company when Foundry Group invested in Topspin’s Series B in 2008, and I’ve been fortunate to know Topspin’s co-founders, Peter Gotcher and Shamal Ranasinghe since the late ’90s.

Topspin was founded with the premise that the key to any artist’s success in the digital age will hinge on an artist’s ability to engage directly with their fans and build a meaningful and authentic artistic and commerical relationship with them. Topspin provides sophisticated artist-focused and data-driven tools to enable artists and their management to run their businesses online.

Now that Topspin has been working with hundreds of artists and has a couple years of real-world experience with their platform in production, they’ve built up enough data to start to share some of their findings about managing, measuring and marketing with data. Shamal gave an excellent presentation at the Midem Conference in Cannes last week, and the deck is packed full of Topspin’s learnings about best practices for running direct-to-fan campaigns.

Here’s the presentation, which is well worth a read for anyone interested in the latest thinking on music marketing in digital age. For a more in-depth discussion of these slides, check out Shamal’s post on the Topspin blog.

February 9th, 2010     Categories: Uncategorized    

Long Hiatus / Random News

It has been a while since I’ve written a blog post. I think some of it is twitter-induced. Instead of a blog post, I simply tweet a URL and feel that I’ve done my part. Ahh, the lazyweb. Actually, there is now an official description of this phenomenon: the Gresham/Morgan Internet Law. My friend Howard Morgan pointed out on his blog that cheap tweeting drives out dear blogging. Guilty as charged.

Rather than simply blog about my insufficient blogging, there are several things in my world (more specifically in the Foundry Group portfolio) today that merit a mention:

First, EmSense (one of standard bearers in our HCI theme) announced today that they’ve raised a $9m round, led by Technology Partners. EmSense has made a ton of progress this year establishing themselves as a serious player in the neuromarketing space, and I’m excited to have Technology Partner’s Roger Quy join the board. He’s probably one of the only VCs out there with a PhD in neuroscience, so his endorsement of EmSense is particularly meaningful.

Second, today Topspin Media announced that registration for Berkleemusic.com’s course “Online Music Marketing with Topspin” starts today. Berklee is one of the premier names in music schools, and this course represents a first step in Topspin expanding the reach of their software beyond the private beta they’ve been running over the past year.

Here’s a quick video preview describing more about the course:

Third, Oblong was featured last week in a Bloomberg TV series called Bloomberg Innovators. Oblong’s founders and technology are featured prominently in the show, as are I and my partner Jason Mendelson (and his Galaga machine). If you haven’t seen Oblong’s tech in action, now’s your change. Bloomberg doesn’t allow embeds of the video, so you’ll have to follow this link.

And, last but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t put in a plug for the Defrag Conference, happening next week in Denver on November 11-12. This is the third year of the Defrag Conference, and it gets better every year. Come join folks like my Foundry Group partners, Defrag founder Eric Norlin, Andy Kessler and Paul Kedrosky as we geek out in the mile high city.

November 3rd, 2009     Categories: Uncategorized