Companies You Should Start Now

Posted on December 14, 2006
Filed Under VC, Technology, Business, Media | Leave a Comment

PenniesI saw on Scoble’s blog the other day that CNN and Business 2.0 had put together a cool article in which top VCs say what idea they want to fund, how much they’ll write a check for and list their e-mail addresses so entrepreneurs can pitch them. Apparently the article is a couple of months old but for some reason I never caught it. Even considering the age of the piece I still think it is worth discussing.

Out of the 20 company ideas listed I think these are the three most interesting:

  1. The Ultimate iDrive
  2. A Better Energizer
  3. The eBay of Product Placement

The Ultimate iDrive

The premise for the Ultimate iDrive is to have a computer in the dash of a car with a keyboard in the steering wheel and a full screen heads up display projected on the windshield. The investors are looking to invest $5mm to a 20 person team for a prototype and a plan to pitch a commercial version to automakers within three years.

I originally wondered about the safety of this system (especially since I commute on my bike and almost get hit every single day by cars) but I suppose, as Fram says in the article, it will be safer for people checking their e-mail on a heads up display so they can still look forward. If you think you’ve got this company down you can send your pitch to Jonathan Fram ([email protected]).

A Better Energizer

I don’t think there is any questions that we all need better batteries. Technology has advanced so much in the past 10 to 20 years while the battery has pretty much remained stagnant. There is a huge opportunity for the team that comes up with a better battery since most device makers will use them and devices are increasingly mobile.

Samir Kaul and famed investor Vinod Khosla are looking to fund a better battery to the tune of $2mm for a team of 10 - 15 to show proof of concept. The concept: a lithium-ion battery with five times the life of anything found in today’s portable devices. If you think you’re up for this challenge shoot your plan to [email protected]

The eBay of Product Placement

This one is more up my alley in terms of being able to understand it since I am in the media space (read: I will talk about this one a bit longer). Apparently it is very hard for brand managers to find product placement opportunities in movies and TV shows these days since they are so scattered and there is no central listing. That said, Roger Lee, a general partner at Battery Ventures, is willing to fund a site that will aggregate product placement opportunities and place them into an online listing where brand managers can bid on them.

Roger also thinks value could be added at the statistical level. This start-up could provide data back to the brand advertiser like viewership tracking and box-office figures compared against sales of the product or service in order to create an “product placement effectiveness” score/metric.

The one problem with this start-up is a classic supply and demand issue. You need enough opportunities on the site for big brand managers to notice and you need big brand managers to get the Hollywood studios to spend time sending you the opportunities. While this problem can probably be solved fairly easily (basically these product placement opportunities are found money for the studios so they’ll probably work with you a bit and allow for a ramp up) I also see another solution for the issue: online media.

Why not start off by catering to the guys like Ask A Ninja, French Maid TV and Something to be Desired? Not only are these guys eager to earn more money with their creations they are also more able to insert product placements on the fly and work with you as you ramp. Since they are also smart about technology and are show producers they will be able to give you great feedback on how to build the system. Get a couple of these guys going, get some feedback, iterate and then start showing the big studios and brand managers. I think it could work.

If you’re up for the challenge Roger is willing to plunk down $6mm to get the site developed and running in 18 months. Not bad at all. Shoot your plan to [email protected]

One More Idea and One that’s Done

Steve Krausz from U.S. Venture Partners is looking to drop $2mm on an ad solution for vlogs. To get the $2mm you’ll need proof of concept and sign-on from some top-advertisers. This caught my eye because I think that the “eBay of product placement” idea, if started as I suggested, could serve this need as well.

With new forms of media the best advertising message is one that blends in with the media. This is not to say that traditional pre, post and mid roll ads won’t work. They are working and working well. However, I bet that product placement integrated into the media in tasteful ways may suit the audience better. I’d love to see the “eBay idea” and the “vlog” idea combine to form a slick product placement network for media from the head of the tail all the way down the slope (man, if I only had a venture fund behind me!).

Now, to the one that’s done. Amanda Reed from Palomar Ventures is looking to invest $5mm for a web-based spreadsheet platform that will allow better sharing, viewing and updating in organizations. Seems like Google now has that covered with Google Spreadsheets. Sure, its lacking in places but if they continue to work on I think it’ll be indispensable to businesses. I like the platform now even with it’s limited functionality.

I suppose the one down side is that you can’t put the platform behind your firewall. Since a lot of spreadsheet data is confidential I would see the need for a web-based platform that sits behind a companies firewall. If you think you want to give this a shot send an e-mail and a plan to [email protected]

The End…

Some of these ideas are a lot of fun and it’ll be exiting to see what breaks out of the mix. If any of you guys reading this are going to attempt any of these ideas please give me a shout ([email protected]) and let me know how your pitches go!

To read all of the ideas and get all the details click here.

Photo Credit: Joshua Davis (aka articnomad) on flickr


Movie Review: Clerks II

Posted on December 14, 2006
Filed Under Movie Reviews | Leave a Comment

Clerks III finally got a chance to watch Clerks II over the weekend. I had wanted to see it since it came out in theaters but, alas, the internet called and I didn’t make it. Being a Kevin Smith fan I really enjoyed the movie but I do think you need to see Clerks to really appreciate part deux. There are some running jokes, the characters are as crazy as ever (not sure where Jay’s Silence of the Lambs impression came from but it was pretty weird and amusing!) and there are some of the usual cameos.

What I really loved about the film (well, its not really something about the film per see) and something that is on topic for this blog is Smith’s use of social media to promote the film. Smith did two big things with the new platform:

  1. Said he would list the first 10,000 friends on the Clerks II MySpace page in the credits of the film.
  2. Created a podcast of his audio commentary that you could place on your device and take into the theater with you.

The MySpace idea was sure to generate a lot of traffic and buzz for the film. It’s pretty straightforward and there is not much to talk about there. The podcast is also straightforward when you think about it. It gets people into the theater twice: once to see the movie and once to see the movie with commentary! Smith’s fan base is one that likes commentary (read: wannabe film makers - myself included) so that was a smart move. I wonder if any other films have taken his lead yet? I haven’t heard of any. Have you?

That said, check out Clerks II if you get a chance. If you haven’t seen Clerks make sure to check it out first if possible as Clerks II will be a much more enjoyable experience. Snoogans!


“Five Things About Me” Meme

Posted on December 13, 2006
Filed Under General Thoughts | 2 Comments

Matthew Jaunich tagged me for this meme today and, although I don’t usually participate in these type of things (it’s a little off topic), I respect Matt and a lot of the people who have participated in this meme so far so here it goes:

Five Things You May Not Know About Me:

  1. I was profiled in Investors Business Daily when I was in high school for the stock market investing I had been doing since I was 13. I always thought I would end up a mutual fund manager but, alas, I was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug!
  2. I did some rally racing in college (and would still do it if I had the time and money - see pics here and here). For those that are not sure what rally is click the previous link. I think you’ll like it!
  3. I love cycling and hope to have a nice epic 2 month ride at some point. Perhaps even ride across the U.S. I also just converted my commuting bike to an official single speed/fixie. I also received a Brooks B-17 saddle for my b-day last week which I love!
  4. I am an avid drummer and have been playing for 12+ years. My long forgotten drum site (and I mean long forgotten) will give you more info on that. Its even on angelfire which tells you how long ago I put that thing together.
  5. I studied in Cairo, Egypt for about a month between semesters in my senior year of college (’03 - ‘04).  It was an eye opening experience for me.  I went for the pyramids (I am an Egypt/history junkie) but I fell in love with the city and its people. Of all the cities I have been to I would say Cairo is one of my all time favorites.  I can’t wait to go back.  The next countries on my list: China, Japan, Italy, Sweden, India

The rules say that I now have to challenge five others so I challenge: Frank Gruber, Rick Klau, Jake Parrillo, John Zeratsky and Justin Ward.


Grameen Foundation Launches Blog

Posted on December 13, 2006
Filed Under Microfinance | 3 Comments

GF USAI just wanted to alert all of you to the fact that the Grameen Foundation now has a blog. This is great news for the microfinance community since the GF USA team will no doubt provide some interesting insights into what is happening in the world of microfinance. Here is a quick blurb from the official press release:

The blog will give new and longtime supporters of microfinance and Professor Yunus’ work (www.thesocialcorp.com) a centralized point for active discussion and commentary on microfinance and the eradication of poverty – and a window to experience the excitement of the ceremony in Oslo. The featured bloggers will be Alex Counts, CEO of Grameen Foundation; Susan Davis, Chair of Grameen Foundation’ board of directors; and Sam Daley-Harris, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign and president and founder of RESULTS.

As you can see, the blog started as a way to cover the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony live but I hope it continues to provide great information going forward. If you’re a microfinance enthusiast definitely subscribe to the feed (which is powered by FeedBurner of course). Without further adieu I’d like to say - Welcome to the blogosphere GF USA. We’re happy to have you!


Business Blogging: It’s All About Personality

Posted on December 11, 2006
Filed Under FeedBurner, Business, Web, Web 2.0 | 4 Comments

Note: I like history (that is an understatement) so the first three paragraphs are a little background on Galena, IL. I think it sets up the blogging story nicely but if you just want to hear about blogging head to the fourth paragraph and start reading there.

Galena SignIt was my birthday this past Thursday and I was lucky enough to be given a number of gifts one of which was a surprise weekend trip to Galena, IL from my better half. Galena is a sleepy little town of 3,500 nestled in the top left corner of Illinois very close to both the Wisconsin and Iowa borders as well as the mightly Mississippi River. While the town is sleepy now it wasn’t always this way.

In the mid-1800s Galena was bustling and was probably the busiest town in Illinois. As one sign put it, Galena was booming while Chicago was still a swamp village. The town’s prosperity was due in no small way to the Galena River which was a large steamboat port and the mines. A lot of trade was done on the banks of the Galena River which, at the time, was over 300 feet wide. Over time the silt from the mining in Galena choked the river and the town began its decent.

Today Galena is a town driven by tourism. It has a quaint main street and many historical buildings to tour (over 80% of the town is on the National Historic Register) so for a history nut like me it is a perfect weekend getaway. One of the famous buildings in Galena is the post Civil War home of U. S. Grant which is a real historical treat. There is also a mid-1800s mansion that was built by a man named Stillman that is now a B&B. This is where Laura and I stayed.

Dave and BernadineNow, on to the blogging (those of you who skipped the first three paragraphs - you missed a real treat). The Stillman Inn is a great place and this is due in no small way to its owners. Dave and Bernadine are a real treat. They have a way of making you feel at home and more like a friend staying for the weekend than a paying guest. Upon check-in Laura and I spent some time chatting with Dave and we learned that this was a second career for him. He had spent 25+ years building up a successful contracting/remodeling business before becoming an innkeeper.

Dave also talked about his website and what they had done to make it better and attract more people to it. Of course that’s when I burst out about blogs and feeds. I can’t help it! So, I took a few minutes to explain the concept to Dave and then it hit me: Dave and Bernadine should be writing a blog.

When you stay at a B&B the experience is much more personal than that of a hotel. After all, you are staying at someone’s house and you eat breakfast with the other guests and the owners. Needless to say, this means that a lot of the success of a B&B comes from the personality of the owner(s).

Dave happens to have a great personality as does Bernadine but if you were to head to their website you may not pick up on that. Essentially all B&B websites look the same. You can get room rates, see pictures and awards and view contact information but you can’t get a feel for the place or the owners. A blog would allow the addition of personality to the site though which would be great for The Stillman Inn.

I started telling Dave that I thought a blog would make a lot of sense for The Stillman Inn. It would allow both Bernadine and himself to show off their personalities along with the inn and the town of Galena causing more people to stay with them. Also, the other 50+ B&B’s in Galena (yup - that’s a lot for such a small town) probably didn’t have one so they would be able to differentiate themselves. I then mentioned that we could get one going in five minutes and he didn’t need to know any code. Being a savvy businessman Dave “got it” immediately and then next morning after breakfast we got The Stillman Inn a blog.

I think the value proposition behind a blog is pretty clear for the Stillman Inn:

  1. Personality of the innkeepers is key for the success of any B&B’s and now Dave and Bernadine can easily showcase theirs.
  2. The blog can be a great source of info about Galena which cold increase bookings. People already know and trust Dave and Bernadine through their research on Galena so why not stay with them?
  3. The blog can be referenced to folks who book rooms ahead so they can learn more about the innkeepers and the town before their stay.
  4. The feed can act as a way to keep in touch with interested parties and prior guests allowing Dave and Bernadine to extend special offers to them.
  5. People interested in coming to Galena can strike up a conversation with Dave and Bernadine through the blog’s comments which could lead to more booked rooms
  6. The cost is virtually $0

Hopefully Dave and Bernadine will keep up their blog. I believe that it can help them drive business to their inn and it will prove meaningful to their business. Their example is a good example of what business blogging is all about. Sure, innkeepers need a good personality to have a good business but a good personality is a huge asset in any business.

People work with people they like and blogging can be a way to allow people to learn about you as a person and decide if they want to do business with you. So, get out there and blog. It’ll help you grow your business and, hey, you may even find that it’s a lot of fun too!


Five Months Without Cable: A Video on the Net Roundup

Posted on December 6, 2006
Filed Under General Thoughts, Technology, Web, Web 2.0, Media | 2 Comments

Old TVAs long time readers know, I have been without cable TV for about five months now. Wow, I can’t even believe it has been that long. I thought it had been a couple months at most but, thanks to my blog archive, I know it was mid-August when I dropped cable TV. Apparently I haven’t missed having cable too much which is not surprising considering how busy I am and the fact that we did install the old bunny ears to get the standard local channels but I think a lot of what has made the past five months without cable so great is the proliferation of video on the net.

A month or so after I cancelled cable some major networks got into video on the net in a major way. There are also a lot of independent players that are producing incredible content. Here is an outline of the services/sites I have been using to get my media fix over the last few months.

Major Networks:

ABC: now has a great video platform on their site which allows viewers to watch their top shows including Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and Lost.

The player itself is nicely done although I would like a “full screen” viewing option. I also like the sponsorship approach. ABC has decided to go with one sponsor per show and they insert about three 30 second spots for that sponsor (which are usually interactive) per show. Seems like a win for ABC, the viewer and the advertiser since it:

  1. Creates more revenue for ABC
  2. Allows the viewer to watch on demand and save about 15 minutes of commercials (time is money right?)
  3. Allows the advertiser to have a clear 100% share-of-voice channel

Check it out if you get a chance and let me (and ABC) know what you think.

Fox: I haven’t spent too much time with the Fox platform at this point since my favorite Fox show, House, is not one of the shows you can watch (so if I miss it I simply miss it). However, Standoff is also a pretty good show so when I miss that show I will use “Fox On Demand.”

The Fox player is based on MySpace which is a negative but they have done a decent job of putting things together. Each show has its own MySpace page where you can watch the most recent episodes and some past episodes (ABC includes more past episodes of their shows). Again, the MySpace tie in is not the best way to present the shows but it works and the video quality is good.

The Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim: I was psyched when the Cartoon Network launched a video player for their Adult Swim content. I am big Aqua Teen Hunger Force fan (although this season hasn’t been terribly great) and without cable I was unable to see the new episodes. Quite frankly, the episodes were on too late on Sunday’s anyway so I never got to see them. The advent of the Adult Swim Fix player solved both of my issues.

Adult Swim Fix started as a windows media tie in for the first couple weeks which didn’t work very well but they soon upgraded to be a better platform/layout. The player is great for watching the latest episodes of each Adult Swim show the week after they air but it becomes hard/impossible to go back 3 or 4 episodes if you miss something. The advertising is sparse now but I thin they’ll stick with the current single pre-roll ad per show which is about right.

Sports: Major League Baseball, while off right now, has a great live game feed on the net for only $14.95 per month which is a great price especially if you are saving $50+ on cable each month. The MLB was the early mover with video on the net and they actually power many other sports video on the net programs.

The one sport that I wish I could get online would be football (and the Tour de France too). I miss my Pats. However, I can get about 8 or 9 games a year with the bunny ears so it’s not too bad. C’mon NFL - get with it!

ESPN could do better with video on the net as well. They are in a prime place to be the primary sports video player on the net. Imagine Sports Center on demand on your computer or iPod video. Sahhhhweeeet!

Other Notes: True cable channels haven’t really made the jump to video on the web for the most part. The History Channel has a player to view clips of certain shows (the one channel I really miss from cable is the History Channel) so they are getting close. The Discovery Channel also has a little video but nothing robust and no full shows. I believe more cable channel will make he move soon though as the traditional broadcast stations prove the value of video on the net.

The Independents:

There is a lot of great independent video content on the web as well. A good resource for that type of content is Network2.tv. Here are some of my favorite shows:

Ask A Ninja: This show is incredible. Shows have been coming out infrequently lately but when they come out they are hilarious! Check out the site and catch up on past videos. You can also order a DVD of their content as well.

The Show with Zefrank: Another great show with top notch production values. Watch this show for witty commentary on current events and to laugh a little too.

Something to be Desired: A great web sitcom produced/written by Justin Kownacki. You can catch up on past seasons/episodes on the website. Justin is also looking for donations to help with the bandwidth bill so please click here if you can help.

Galacticast: This is another favorite of mine and many other people as well. Check them out for some laughs and sci-fi goodness.

Other Notes: There are a lot more great independent shows on the web so search and you shall find. AniBoom.com has some great cartoons. Pawky.com has great independent short films. Network2.tv has a directory of it all so start your search there.

Conclusion:

I have really enjoyed trying all the new video on the net offerings and learning about new independent content. I urge all of you to start checking out video on the net. It is in the early days still but it is definitely the future.

You can also rent TV shows on DVD from Netflix with all of the money you’d be saving from cable. I actually watched seasons 1 -3 (the whole run) of Arrested Development over the past month or so and I am glad I did (thanks Rick!). It is a great show (actually - it is probably the best TV show I have seen in a long time and definitely the best sitcom I have ever seen) and I may never have had the time/found it if I still had cable to turn to. Make sure to let me know what you like to watch on the net. I am always up for some new stuff!

- Thanks to Chris Brogan for the image inspiration.


TECH cocktail 3 Announcement

Posted on December 6, 2006
Filed Under VC, Technology, Chicago, Business, TECH cocktail, Web, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment

NBC Tower ChicagoIt’s about that time again! TECH cocktail 3 will be held on Thursday, January 25, 2007 at Amira (trivia: Amira means princess in Arabic). Amira is located at the bottom of the NBC Tower in the loop. Frank and I are very excited to host TECH cocktail 3 at the NBC Tower. It should prove to be a more spacious venue so everyone will be comfortable.

Click here to RSVP for TECH cocktail 3

If you are interested in demo’ing at TECH cocktail 3 please contact Frank or I and send a little background on your company/product (Frank: frank [at] techcocktail.com :: Eric: eric [at] techcocktail.com). Also, if you’d like to sponsor TECH cocktail to help us pay the bills please shoot us a note. It costs a lot to put these parties on even with my fantastic negotiating skills so every little bit helps!

Frank and I are looking forward to seeing you all at TECH cocktail 3 and to meeting folks who are new to TECH cocktail. It will be a fun evening for sure so make sure to RSVP sooner rather than later. We’ve already got some great people on the list after just one day of RSVPing which is great to see.

For more details please stay tuned to TECHcocktail.com and perhaps even subscribe to our feed!

Photo Attribution: lobstar28 on Flickr


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