Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Startup Battlefield is on at TechCrunch Disrupt Ny 2013- so what’s being disrupted?

The Startup Battlefield is open at Disrupt NY.

Thirty-five companies have six minutes each to elevator-pitch their products, followed by six minutes of Q&A.

So far, contenders that look volatile to us include Floored, a 3D visualization tool for real estate, and Zenefits, a free, YC-backed employee benefits outsourcer.

Floored is an app built on Matterport, a system that uses a camera with Kinect-style sensors to capture interior spaces in 3D. It’s pretty ingenious, and having worked at a real estate office, I can see the potential of this tool. Also, I suspect this technology will be incorporated into VR porn sooner rather than later.

zenefitsToday Zenefits announced that they are opening up payroll services, and expanding to New York State. Zenefits started here in the Bay Area, where startups with CEOs who couldn’t care less about administering employee benefits resent spending even HR-outsourcing dollars.

TriNet has been the titan in the HR-outsourcing arena for as long as I’ve worked at SF startups- fourteen years- but TriNet costs CEOs money.

Zenefits, which is essentially an automated insurance broker, is free to employers.

Plus, they cleverly describe managing the exchange of human labor for life-sustaining funds and critical health coverage as “soul-crushing busywork” on their homepage. This is sure to go over big with CEOs and VCs who see the Iowan twentysomethings who are at work building their actual company tech as inconvenient, interchangeable meatsacks.

We don’t think much of the “Mommy buy me a pony” app Ok’d from PaidPiper.

Transferring funds, sending money via Paypal, setting up wishlists on Amazon- none of those things are so hard that they need a “disruptive” technology to revolutionize them. Also, there’s an intrinsic lameness to software that helps you ask other people for money by sending them a picture of the thing you want.

Also distasteful to this libertine is the nanny-app Purchext, which claims to “increase communication” between parents and children.

If you’re worried about what your kids will buy with the money you give them, have a conversation with your kids. Making them submit expense reports is creepy.

We think the “build your app even though you can’t code” system AppArchitect has potential as a moneymaker, simply because there are so many people who can’t code but still want to write their own Facebook For Dogs app.

But even talking about iPhone apps bores us.

Then there’s Bidzy, which is HotelTonight>Priceline>TaskRabbit/Not Groupon. Bidzy is most interesting in that it’s using the Instacart homepage model, where you have to either login with Facebook or create an account to access the site at all. Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta claims that this converts better. We claim it’s a douche move, and think that Bidzy will fail.

And finally, we like the buzz around Spacebar, an app from cofounder Gregory Miller that livestreams concerts. The app seems to be well-designed to actually support musicians and is getting traction from a couple of major draws, so we hope it goes somewhere.

this post originally appeared on the T324 Blog.

Tom Foremski says “Be Here Right Now” will beat Google Glass.

I think Tom Foremski‘s a damn smart guy who really knows the Valley, but I disagree with him on this one. I think Google understands the crucial thing about the 21st century; if you keep opening bottles, some of the genies won’t go back in.

Not every new technology gets adopted. But the barriers to adoption aren’t about etiquette or what’s cool, or even what’s sensible or safe. It’s extremely interesting that Mr. Foremski is encountering an attitudinal shift about video and image recording- what he succinctly describes as “Don’t record me, bro!”- but it’s not a deal-breaker for Glass.

Smart is the new black.

While we wait for news coverage of the annual Smart Fabrics conference to trickle out, let’s check out some other wearable tech developments!

We wrote about Stick-N-Find wireless trackers back in December, and now they’re shipping in lots of decorator colors! Put ’em on your phone, your kid’s jacket or shoes, your keys, your pet.

In design trends, we love the earlier work of Beijing designer Vega Wang, like Into the Deep, and we adore her recent design collection Alpha Lyrae, a collab with the creators project.

Check out this gorgeous video of the design process here. Wang’s S/S 2013 collection for ready-to-wear echoes Alpha Lyrae, with exquisite galactic prints that have been copied to the mass market all the way from Etsy to Target already.vega-zaishi-wang-alpha-lyrae-1

Although aspects of Barbie’s aspirational positioning are toxic, we’ve always liked that she was a Computer Engineer in 2010. We thought the binary & circuit-print outfit was great, too. (Not so crazy about the 2010 News Anchor version, where she looks uncannily like Nicole Kidman in To Die For!)

And in an exciting development, this summer a Barbie with a programmable LED dress is coming out. I can’t wait to see this hacked! You can also now see the dress that likely inspired Barbie’s, one of Cute Circuit’s LED creations, at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

This post originally appeared on the T324 Blog.

ThinkGeek, for all your caffeinated food item needs, and the value of email marketing.

At my last marketing job we bought a lot of stuff from ThinkGeek, for raffle gifts at networking events and business expos, for adding humor to gift baskets, and for our own entertainment. A lot of the goodies on our “Gifts for Geek Clients” Pinterest board came from ThinkGeek. Email newsletter marketing on mobile devices

So we got regular ThinkGeek email newsletters, and we actually opened and read every one.

How does a for-profit business get us to read its marketing email?

By knowing their market, having a really good email template, and filling it with great content.

Email newsletters are stronger than ever as a marketing tool, despite the challenge of making them render attractively or even decently across the increasing variety of devices and email clients people view them on.

Email templates have to be coded in HTML, with CSS. TG’s newsletters display perfectly in Outlook, even though they include lots of images and links.

In Gmail, which strips out all images and much graphic formatting, the newsletter is still readable with text formatting in place and messages that appear in place of the images.

Being mindful of what has to be explicitly built into the newsletter for each email client is crucial. It’s also very helpful to have your email newsletter template built by someone who knows how to make it stand out from cookie-cutter Constant Contact and MailChimp templates.

The TG newsletter is colorful and chatty, with a geek-friendly we-speak-your-language tone. It’s highly topical – like a reference to an Internet-exploding episode of Game of Thrones to promote TG’s GoT board game. A typical week’s also included a product so ridiculous we had to click over to the website- Caffeinated Sugar!

When writing an email newsletter to your client base, you want to keep the welcome mat out for future emails. Don’t spam readers with your priorities.

Keep the focus on what’s important to your clients and add value with interesting content. Gauge the tone to fit the level of formality that’s typical in your industry. Include clever social share incentives like a “tweet this tip” in your informative content. Don’t forget that email newsletters should always include icons that link to your social media and an RSS button to subscribe to your blog.

If it’s appropriate to your industry, make it fun; if your clients expect a more serious tone, make it elegant.

CEOs can help their marketing professionals when it’s time to write a newsletter: what’s new in hires, products or services from your company, are any sea changes in your industry affecting your clients, and is there a segment where you’re gaining or losing clients? Budgeting time for your company experts to write a technical tip for your newsletter pays off in value-adding content.

Offering a coupon, contest or sale at the top of your newsletter and mentioning the exact prize value or percentage off in the header will help you get opens.

If you have a great white paper, include a button to click for a free download. Engage readers by showing you value their input. ThinkGeek uses the brilliant gimmick of soliciting and publishing a weekly Tech Haiku from readers.

A photo contest is a great way to engage your clients, and asking them in your newsletter to submit the photos on your Facebook page can jumpstart your Facebook activity if it’s lagging. If your business is precision machining, like T324’s wonderful client QQE, you can still run a photo contest. Pick something fun about your team and include an example, like “most pictures of kids on desk”, and ask your clients to respond in kind; offer a gift basket as a prize. Ask for stories about how your clients use your product or service, and print the story in the next newsletter.

Remember, an inbox is a personal space. Enter it politely, sincerely, and with something worthwhile to give. And look like you dressed nicely to visit- make sure your template looks beautiful!

this post originally appeared on the T324 blog.

What will Google X announce this month?

So Sunday night I had dinner with a friend who works for Google X. My friend can’t talk about what he’s working on, but he did say that there’s an announcement coming up soon about one of the X projects. A quick visit to the internets confirmed this, with absolutely no more information than I had already.

Google has recently moved two of their top executives over to covert projects at X. Will they be working on Glass, or something entirely different? With all the Glass news at SXSW, it seems unlikely another announcement about Glass is in the offing. It’s also definitely not a space elevator. (Damn! I want to travel Friday-style!)

Comixology backs down from censorship of Vaughan & Staples’ Saga

Digital comics store Comixology got into some hot water with the internet (see Charlie Jane on io9, below) for deciding to ban the latest issue of popular creator Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga from its iOS store.

Why? Because the gorgeous, crackerjack artwork by Canadian artist Fiona Staples contained two postage-stamp sized images of gay sex.

Looks like Apple wasn’t thrilled with the decision, and Comixology has backpedaled.

But as io9 commentors and Bleeding Cool point out, this situation highlights the issues with Apple’s historically sometimes prudish walled garden. Digital comic distributor Izneo removed 40% of their content recently after receiving banning threats from Apple.

As a partner of Apple, we have an obligation to respect its policies for apps and the books offered in apps.  Based on our understanding of those policies, we believed that Saga #12 could not be made available in our app, and so we did not release it today. We did not interpret the content in question as involving any particular sexual orientation, and frankly that would have been a completely irrelevant consideration under any circumstance. Given this, it should be clear that Apple did not reject Saga #12.

As a former comic artist who was once censored by DC myself, I kind of feel that the publisher has right to censor content according to their internal standards, since they’re publishing you- but a distributor, which is what Comixology is, doesn’t.

In 1987 physical comics distributor Diamond Comics Steve Geppi tried to censor a creator as popular then as Vaughan is now- Alan Moore.

His attempt to persuade retailers not to stock Miracleman #9 not only didn’t work (I know, because I bought it at Forbidden Planet in Manhattan), it cost Diamond customers.

In the 21st century, distribution censorship should be a dead issue- you can’t unring the bell of torrenting, and if you don’t have it, somebody else will.

Yet Apple has previously censored gay sex images- in a comic inspired by Oscar Wilde, which is like censoring polenta in a cookbook. Apple killed its “Explicit” app category almost immediately; Jobs’ position on “freedom from porn” is well known from his famous email exchange with Gawker blogger Ryan Tate.

Itunes Match is known for changing songs from “explicit” versions to “clean”, as recently as a month ago.

Seriously, why would they do that? Who’s running Apple now, Tipper Gore? Once again, Apple demonstrates that they think they know best about what you want. And also, they think you’re stupid.

this post originally appeared on the T324 blog.

Philly skyscraper lights up the night with a giant game of Pong!

Philadelphia's Giant Pong GameNear Philadelphia and want to play one of the world’s largest video games, on the side of a skyscraper? Join the lottery here! During the pretty fantastic-sounding Philly Tech Week, spectators will watch the game from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (aka “The Rocky Steps“).

If you’ve never been to the Philly Museum of Art, the collection is amazing. Your bloggess highly recommends a visit! Continue reading