Monday, October 30, 2006

Rafer in the Merc

So we at Penn Six (comedy/a capella group I'm in) had our fall show this past weekend, and I finally have the time to devote to this blog, which has been barren of late.

Anyway, I know I promised articles on other stuff, but I had to write about this - my boss and fearless leader over the summer, Scott Rafer, was featured in an article in the San Jose Mercury about entrepreneurs who are captaining or heavily involved in multiple start ups. And Scott definitely embodies the part.

The coolest part about working for him this summer was not only getting to see him work his magic but trying my hand at it as well. As I've mentioned on this blog, I spent time working on projects for WINKsite, Mashery, and MyBlogLog, as well as a personal project when I could spare the time.

In particular, one of Scott's quotes from the article, "VCs spread their risk across numerous companies. Why shouldn't we?," really stood out to me. Spreading risk was one of the Rafer-isms I got all summer, and he makes a very good point.

Being an entrepreneur isn't easy. Hell, it's for the crazy ones, not the sane ones. No stable paycheck. No 9-5. Just a dream to make it big against the odds (really against the odds). And I really don't even know the half of it. It's easy to work for a start up for 3 months over the summer when you're under the same roof as your parents, but doing it for a living requires a lot of luck and even more skill.

Yet Rafer manages to pull it off - not only does he make a livelihood out of being an entrepreneur, he does it with mostly small start ups. The biggest lessons I learned over the summer were balancing and prioritizing - taking safer gigs to counter the risky ones and knowing which one is the most important (and communicating that to everyone involved).

But my most important realization went a level deeper: at the end of the day, the serial entrepreneur is doing more than just minimizing risk - he's living his dream. Working more than just a day job, especially for start ups, has got to be fueled by passion. Though practical reasons justify the decision to take on multiple projects at once, love for the work has to drive it.

(By the way, Scott, I'm going to use this post as a spring board for the write ups I promised a while ago. Sorry, it's taken so long, but they'll be up soon.)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I'm back (again)

Sorry for the recent break in posting. I've been busy. Very busy. But it's mostly over, and in the meantime the valley hasn't slept much.

Stay tuned for posts on, in no particular order, Friendster and their patent, MyBlogLog, The Venice Project, GooTube (finally), the various financials released this past week (once Microsoft gets theirs out next week), the web and user generated art, the emergence of localized websites (a discussion stemming from SmallTown's recent launch), and maybe even a guess piece on Amarnth and their recent collapse. Not sure if/when I'll get to all of them, but keep reading.

As a side note, you're welcome Zach and Mike (the MyKin guys) - I hope it boosted traffic for you guys (though I really doubt it did much:). And I promise to be nice with the reporter from that Iowa paper.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Over the summer, I was fortunate enough to represent Mashery at a variety of conferences and networking events. They were, in a word, an experience. Picture a gathering of genuine Silicon Valley nerds (yours truly included, of course) sprinkled with a few smooth talking VCs, prominent entrepreneurs, and generally crazy characters.

Two of the most memorable people I rubbed shoulders with would fall mostly into that last category, and I say that with nothing but love. At an event in San Francisco, I met Mike Basten and Zach Smith, a duo who had just launched a social networking site for families.

But here's the kicker: to promote the site, they went on a national tour in a '71 VW Bus. Literally, they threw some computer equipment and two mattresses in this van and set off across the country from Iowa.

How utterly awesome is that? As someone who considers entrepreneurship to run in his blood, I have an enormous amount of respect for the two of them. So when Mike called me the other day, it clicked that I should dedicate my next post to profiling MyKin, as I had promised a non big name one anyway.

So, As mentioned, it's basic concept is a social network for families. Today, MySpace (and now Facebook) offer a social slant that doesn't work well for families (the average kid probably wouldn't want family members to frequent their MySpace page).

MyKin's concept revolves around the connectedness that families usually share. MyKin gives families an online forum for communicating and sharing photos. The social networking aspects of the site are fairly typical (can set up families and family friends, send messages, etc.), but my two favorite parts of the site are the photo share and family tree. The first is very practical - families always have pictures they'd love to show their relatives in other parts of the country but don't always have a set way of doing so.

The family tree is really cool, despite an ambiguous functionality. For example, if you get your entire extended family on the site, the tree gives you a graphic view of how everyone is connected. Keeping track of or in touch with distant relatives becomes much easier.

Overall, MyKin's outlook is fairly rosy. The success of these sites is always a crap shoot, but I truly believe the idea behind it is fairly practical and helps families keep in touch. From a Web 2.0 framework, the site is fairly viral, as one family member will actively try to get his family on the site. However, word-of-mouth has a harder time working between families, as individuals probably won't try as hard to get non-family members on the site.

Anyway, its great to see the Valley spirit alive and well, especially when it's not in the Valley. Win or lose, a project like this is always great to see. Best of luck to Mike and Zach.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Google Buys YouTube

I had to. Because, well, they did it.

I know I said I was going to refrain from posts on the big names a bit, and I've got drafts of pieces on lesser known, non Silicon Valley start ups in the works. But I had to give my 2 cents on the big news.

The rumor mill had been churning for a while, and the whispers were dead on. Today, Google formally announced the purchase of YouTube, the rapidly growing video sharing site, for $1.65 billion.

My thoughts on the acquisition are mixed. In some ways, YouTube is a copyright nightmare just waiting to happen, as Mark Cuban wrote a little while back. The company could turn into the next Napster, and with Google backing it, that could bode poorly for the leading search engine.

On the flip side, Google wants their foot in the online video ad world, and this is a great way to realize that goal.

My overall conclusion is that time will tell. If Google can dodge or safely navigate the lawsuits and lega issues, the move will probably be a positive one. However, the impending cloud of legal worries puts a definite damper on the purchase.

The opinion pieces are everywhere on this one, so I'll save you some time and wait a little while before putting my thoughts up at length.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Google Killers

First off, two apologies. First, I haven't been writing much recently - school work and other projects here at Penn are taking quite a bit of my time. Second, this blog has not turned into serial commentary on Facebook, Google, and the other big names. They just seem to be the things that have inspired me recently. After this post (which isn't even entirely about Google), I promise to do some pieces on the underground movers, shakers, and trends in our beloved Silicon Valley (or maybe the wasteland of Philadelphia:).

On to Google, and their imminent death. OK, not really, but the wheels are in motion. Companies like Google don't die: they're too big. Google has made it big time, so it won't belly up per say anytime soon. The big timers don't die - they are simply transformed into zombies, shells of their once-great selves, that whither away over a long period of time.

The fertile ground of the Bay Area has been sowed with the seeds of companies that will one day challenge Google. The talk of the town today is Powerset, a search start up that allows people to use natural language when searching and takes into account words that Google ignores. For example (borrowed from the Techcrunch article about the company), "books by kids" is different from "books for kids" is different from "books about kids" in real life, but Google sees them all as "books kids" and returns results accordingly. (An in depth article about Powerset is on VentureBeat.)

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The new, cool search sites are popping up all over the place. A close friend of mine worked at one in Emeryville (near Berkeley) over the summer that incorporated neural networks and thus approached search from a radically different perspective compared to Google, which clings to their patented, antiquated technology (details withheld due to secrecy issues).

The point is that Google's core competency, search, is under fire. Like many Silicon Valley titans with a once-groundbreaking product, Google has chose to diversify their business rather than focus on what makes them good. Their basic offering hasn't really changed in 8 years, and it's now ripe for replacing.

And though it may not seem like it, search is still quite inefficient. Studies report that around 50% of users aren't satisfied with the relevancy of the results from their searches. And, of course, any techie will tell you the Holy Grail of computer science is not only developing a fast, thorough search algorithm but also enabling the search engine to understand exactly what the user desires.

And that's exactly what the next generation search engine will do, whether it's Powerset or someone else.