Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Guy Kawasaki

In my last few weeks in California I used as many of my contacts as possible to meet with impressive business folk around the notoriously entrepreneurial bay area. One of these meetings was with Guy Kawasaki (About, Stanford, wiki, .com, blog, VC, LinkedIn, truemor, allTop, twitter). OK, so as is evident from the endless URL list this “guy” is all over the web. Guy is an evangelist, an entrepreneur, an investment banker, and a venture capitalist. He is better known for a couple of specific things: one of his books (‘The Art of the Start‘, Video), and also for being a software evangelist (i.e. Apple). So one would assume having the privilege to meet Mr Kawasaki would inspire and motivate.

Before I proceed, a very large thank you to Kathy, “Empress of the Universe”, for introducing me and arranging the meeting. If my narrative of the meeting seems a little concise this reflects the brevity of the answers and entrepreneurial insights offered by Guy – who I only can assume was having a particularly bad day.

He is a major evangelist for pursuing meaning in all aspects of business. In other words to follow ideas/concepts/businesses/plans with a fidelity that accurately reflects the meaning you see in them. His mantra both personally & professionally is to “empower people”. Its fair to say his startups are in line with this given that they include two news aggregators and a VC firm (20 Million fund). Mr Kawasaki may be an evangelist but he certainly is not a futurologist, nor is he interested in projecting technologies for that matter, something I found to be very strange for a VC immersed in technology. When I asked him about conservative IP strategies versus getting to market fast he wholly encouraged me to take option 2. Build the prototype fast and get to market faster. There’s isn’t a lot more to recount as Guy wasn’t playing ball at all! Given the disappointment from this encounter I probably also learned an important lesson – to remember to share and disseminate any acquired knowledge and experiences freely at all times with aspiring individuals who show interest. Despite this disappointment I wholly recommend his book, ‘The Art of the Start’ , as a must-read to anyone interested in starting a business of any kind.


Harvard Pitching & DEKA

etuk.jpgWeek7 Mar 3-7: On Monday 3rd we had a lecture by Ntiedo Etuk who is Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO of Tabula Digita. Tabula Digita is an educational gaming company focused on delivering innovative and effective educational games to students and institutions. The games have all of the action adventure fun associated with mainstream games while simultaneously providing an efficient learning environment to better prepare students for high stakes exams. Tabula Digita’s games can be used as stand alone teaching programs or they can be used to support and enhance conventional teaching methods and materials. Tabula Digita’s experiential learning systems are embedded in a stunning first person, action adventure video game format which Ntiedo demonstrated for the group. The games were very impressive and something which would prove beneficial to educational institutions without doubt. Its just a matter of how fast Tabula Digita can convince State educational boards that this is worth paying for, and get past the usual red tape.

On Monday evening the Global Scholars were invited to partake in a pitching competition against Harvard students. Angelo, George, Helena and I put ourselves forward to compete against 4 Harvard business and tech students. The challenge was an elevator or 1 minute pitch, which is definitely harder in my opinion than a standard non-restricted pitch. Angelo, our very own rocket scientist, won the competition, and a $200 prize!

dean_ibot.jpgdeka.gifOn Tuesday 4th we headed to Manchester New Hampshire to visit DEKA. During our time here we had Dean Kamen, the genius behind DEKA’s creation, answering questions and guiding us around his research labs. DEKA Research & Development Corporation is focused on the development of radical new technologies that span a diverse set of applications. copy-of-img_5420.jpgDEKA’s technologies, and the products which incorporate these technologies, are improving lives around the world. One example of this is the iBOT, a sophisticated mobility aid for the physically challenged, designed to climb stairs and traverse uneven terrain. The iBOT uses self-balancing technology, allowing users to better operate in a world architected for those with balance. During our tour of segway_small.jpgDEKA’s robotics lab Dean demo’ed the iBOT for us and allowed each of us to test it for ourselves – it truly is an amazing piece of engineering. Another of DEKA’s more notable and public products is the prosthetic arm (video or story) they’ve developed for Iraq veteran amputees to resume a semblance of a normal life. In case DEKA isn’t ringing any bells for you yet, they have also invented the infamous Segway personal transporter.

It was a privilege to have spent the day with Dean, he had invaluable advice to share with us regards our own entrepprises going forward. “Succeed by raising the bar, not by forcing others under it” was a business approach he reiterated a few times. He had a few things to say about VCs that, to put it politely, would have no place on a family website! He talked a lot about Richard Feynman, who is one of my idols, so it was intriguing to hear his opinions on the “citizen scientist”, which Feynman referred to himself as. He highly recommended his book “Tips on Physics”.Dean shared various anecdotes with us, of which his experience of college is the funniest. He basically treated the entire faculty at uni as his personal tutors. In this way he skipped class and simply visited lecturers at their offices to chat about what interested him and what he needed to know for his various projects!! In general the attitude in DEKA appears to be very liberal, there’s no forced hierarchy which knocks ideas as they arise from the shop floor, no matter how crazy they seem initially. “We fund the success of our gizmos through the success of our formal projects”. “Everybody’s allowed to have dumb ideas!” Just a couple of insightful quotes I thought worth sharing. He talked a little about always striving to do the impossible and achieving market dominance through their ability to continually do exactly that. Also he emphasised that with every project they aim to always outperform and over-achieve on expectations.

first_robotics.jpg Following this we had some time in the evening to visit another of Dean’s projects – First Robotics. FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is a unique varsity sport help high-school-aged young people discover how interesting and rewarding the life of engineers and researchers can be. FRC challenges teams of young people and their mentors to solve a common problem in a six-week timeframe using a standard “kit of parts” and a common set of rules. Teams build robots from the parts and enter them in competitions designed by Dean, Dr. Woodie Flowers, and a committee of engineers and other professionals. Dean encouraged all the global scholars to get involved with the mission which FRC encapsulates – to encourage young second level students to realise the potential in engineering and research careers, through mentoring, volunteering and coaching.

Rubbing Shoulders in $ilicon Valley

nickmckeown.jpgWeek5end 23-24 Feb: Over the weekend Stuart and I spent some time with Peter Davies, one of the most seasoned entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. We got on very well with Peter and as a result we ended up at his house having dinner with his family on Saturday evening. Nick McKeown who was also there gave Stuart and I some great advice on new ventures and startups. Nick is highly regarded within Silicon Valley for spinning many companies from Stanford, where he is a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (bio).

davidperry.jpgOn Sunday morning we also met Peter for breakfast in Palo Alto’s University Ave Café. On this occasion Peter brought David Perry along to chat with us. David is first and foremost a friendly and fun guy to chat with. Business-wise he is a titan, as is evident from his first startup – ( Chemdex still holds the record for reaching a $10B valuation in the shortest time, which was at the end of 1999. Following the realisation that here was no air left in the Internet Bubble, in early 2000 the company fell to a valuation of just over $100M, and from 500 to 100 employees! It was interesting to listen to David describe how he took the company to this amazing valuation and how he coped following the crash in 2000. Read the full Chemdex story here. Not content with this he has started two companies since then and is currently in the process of making an IPO. David has impressively raised over $½Billion in VC funding since the early 90s!!!

David had a few insights into how to be a successful entrepreneur:
1.) The first is to not worry so much about what it is you are doing as long as you fulfill 2 criteria. They are that you are always learning and you are enjoying what you are doing. This mantra is true whether or not you are perusing entrepreneurial activities, or working for a company.

2.) Secondly he outlined a perspective for pitching and raising capital. The idea is to basically spell out the opportunities of the project first. No opportunity comes without risk, and if you pretend it does, any VC will laugh you out of the room. Then you focus on describing how you are going to eliminate these risks, one by one. Present risks based on their severity and potential to prevent progress. This approach tells the investor that you’re not naïve about the presence of risk, and that you’re aware that they’re investing in your ability to mitigate these risks, one by one.

The ingenious part is once you have outlined the fantastic opportunity, prep’ed them with the risks, then instead of asking for money to pursue the opportunity, you ask for the money to eliminate the risks. So if you identify the risks in order of priority and necessity, and ask for X amount to overcome the top Y risks, you can show how strong the company will be at that stage. Inherent with this approach is transparency of preempted risks & your control of them, as well as knowledge of how much investment will be required at stages to continue to eliminate further risks. If done properly, you will organise the risks into stages (e.g. milestones within an Implementation Plan as outlined in Zoller’s last seminar), and at each stage it will become easier to raise the capital required to overcome associated risks.

Finally David also warned about a situation that currently seems a long way off, and that is raising too much money! Apparently he has encountered the situation, and Peter also, where VC’s wish to invest a much larger amount of capital than is required. This usually occurs when investor groups work together and all want a piece of the pie. In this situation, to support the higher valuation this causes, it is too easy to spread the company too thinly and work on products that aren’t core to your business, and therefore you can lose focus on the key areas. Not something that is immediately relevant perhaps, but something to think about nonetheless.



eugene_fitzgerald.jpgDay 11, Monday 4th Feb: To start off week 3 Eugene Fitzgerald Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT gave a seminar titled “Amberwave: Innovation in Science and Technology”. This talk focused primarily around his experiences in bringing Amberwave, a company he co-founded, to fruition. A few points from Eugene’s talk:
– There are distinct periods that focus either on Services/Know-how or IP (patenting)
– Its essential for already wealthy countries to embrace immigration in order to drive an innovative society
– Amberwave persisted with their IP/patenting strategy and managed to win against a huge Bluechip which now licences their technology, allowing them to redirect resources and enter new markets

bo_fishback_200.jpgOn Monday I also met with Bo Fishback, the VP of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation. Bo was an absolute delight and pleasure to talk to. Coming from a techie background we found lots of common ground for interesting discussion. In particular we discovered a very common ground on one particular project on which I’m currently working. Bo is a very passionate entrepreneur. His enthusiasm is contagious and his energy has a magnetic affect on you. All this said I endeavour to always approach even the most favourable of situations objectively and with a level head – so I discussed this particular project and many other ideas I have with Bo. Likewise, he detailed some of the projects he has on the back burner – interesting indeed! I plan on meeting with Bo again ASAP for a discussion targeted at REHEAT.
         One point Bo made to me was regards determining ‘Product Market Fit’. His take on this was that one has to discover where the natural boundary between ‘technology push’ and ‘market pull’ lies. This may sound obvious but figuring this out with any product is the key to survival! He also suggested one approach to innovation which involves envisaging the future of your market of interest and regressing to the present – the skill lies in the regression and how one determines incremental steps along this path. On a random note, Bo a couple of interesting organisations he point out to me: Rave Wireless, The Foundry.

In the evening Carl Schramm hosted all the Global Scholars at his favourite BBQ joint in KC – jack’s stack. He, humorously, insisted on ordering for all 12 of us!! The food was fantastic and the conversation with Carl’s other guests, Michael Levin and Frank Douglas, was intriguing.


Technical Innovation – Melissa Schilling

mschilling.jpgDay 9, Thursday 31st Jan: Dr Melissa Schilling is an associate professor of management at New York University Stern School of Business where she teaches courses in strategic management and technology and innovation management. Melissa gave a seminar titled “Strategic Management of Technical Innovation” focussed on the following 7 main areas which are extracted from her book:
– Types and patterns of innovation
– Standards battles and design dominance
– Timing of entry effects
– Collaboration strategies
– Protecting innovation
– Managing the new product development process
– Crafting a deployment strategy

Main points which I identified in Melissa’s presentation include:
Types and patterns of innovation
– Technology improvement occurs faster than customers adjust their requirements
– Types of technical innovation:
      – Product vrs process innovation
      – Radical vrs incremental innovation
      – Competence enhancing vrs competence-destroying innovation
      – Architectural vrs component innovation
– Rate of technology improvement & adoption typically follows S shaped curve as shown in graph
– Melissa quoted Everett M. Rogers’ topology of technology adopters:
      – Innovators – first 2.5% of people to adopt an innovation
      – Early adopters – next 13.5%
      – Early majority – next 34%
      – Late adopters – next 34%
      – Laggards – last 16%
– Dr Schilling posed some questions based on these general concepts:
      1. Is your innovation:
            – product or process?
            – radical or incremental?
            – competence destroying or enhancing (and for whom)?
            – modular or architectural?
      2. Where is your innovation on the technology s-curve? Where are competing technologies or services on their s-curves?
      3. What adopter categories would be likely to choose your innovation?
      4. Is this innovation disruptive? Is it likely to become a dominant design? Are industry stakeholders likely to resist this innovation? If so, why?

Melissa went on to cover 6 other areas in comprehensive detail. However there is simply too much include to include on a blog without hazing the details. To learn more about Melissa’s views on these topics check her book out:
– Standards battles and design dominance
– Timing of entry
– Collaboration Strategies
– Protecting Innovation
– Managing the new product development process
– Crafting a deployment strategy