Posts made in January, 2011

DoBand Wants to Help Your Turn Ideas Into Action

Posted by on Jan 24, 2011 in Innovation | 2 comments

Francis Pedraza DoBand

DoBand CEO, Francis Predaza, Interview Below

Actions speak louder than words. Words to live by if you want to start something, and finish it. But for many, setting a goal rarely means we actually meet it.

That’s why DoBand, the “action-oriented social network” wants to help. Just like you might share your to-do-list with a co-worker or classmate so they can hold you somewhat accountable, you can share your goals (they call them “Deeds” on the site) with the world (eventually, now you share them with the DoBand community) so they can help you reach them.

Want to lose 10 lbs? Put it on DoBand. Want to raise $25,000 for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society? Well, someone already did. You guessed it, after putting the goal on DoBand.

Francis Pedraza is Looking for Doers

DoBand CEO Francis Pedraza knows a thing or two about overcoming obstacles. Driven by stories like the one above – someone raising tons of money for charity – and the smaller achievements people are making every day, the six-person start-up is looking to iterate their way into your personal success, and ultimately capture a market that has yet to be fully dominated online. 43Things claims 3 million users (including Zappos’ CEO Tony Shieh), but the market for people that need help reaching their potential is much, much larger.

From the DoBand homepage, where you enter your "Deed".

Is this a market looking for a solution?

Hard to say. But a handful of technology leaders on the DoBand Board of Advisors think so:

Tina Seelig, Executive Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program and Dave Blakely, who leads the Technology Practice at IDEO, as well as Shahriar BroumandAndy Mutz, and Peter Farrell are helping DoBand reach their own goal of becoming the leader in the space.

DoBand CEO, Francis Pedraza called in for an interview and shared his thoughts on their role in your success. A recap of the interview is below:

Q: Why do people need DoBand?

DoBand Wants to Unleash Your Inner DaVinci

The question we’re always trying to answer is “how do you make an idea happen?” Every one of us has the same potential as a Leonardo DaVinci. But then there’s the 9 to 5 mentality, and we lose touch with that potential. Our goal is to help people reconnect with those dreams, by providing structure and incentive to do so.

Q: How are you different than 43Things?

DoBand has a different vision and a much more streamlined site. We’re focused much less on features and much more on making it easy to achieve something.

43Things Homepage

Q: Why build a whole new social network, why not just launch a Facebook app?

The way we saw it, we had three options: a mobile app, a Facebook app and our own site. At the end of the day building something new ourselves gives us a lot more autonomy, our success and our community’s success is not dependent on a third-party platform. We’re creating more value this way.

Q: Thoughts for other entrepreneurs trying to turn their ideas into action?

I found a lot of inspiration in Eric Ries’ Lean Start-up Theory (a video is embedded below). He gets to the heart of why most start-ups fail, and it forces you to think about how to reduce your chances of failure. In this line of thinking, we’ve built a super stream-lined team. We’re all learning how to code. If you have an idea for the site, show us the value and then execute it yourself, that’s one of the internal standards we’ve set.

The Eric Ries Lean Start-up Theory Video

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LaunchBox Digital: Where Entrepreneurs Rule.

Posted by on Jan 12, 2011 in Innovation | 2 comments

American Tobacco Campus on Ice

An icestorm blew through the Triangle region of North Carolina; schools and business closed down to be safe. For seven start-up founders and a crowd of 150+ potential investors, influencers and peers, a little black ice was the last thing on their mind.

LaunchBox Digital’s Demo Day kicked off with a phone-in keynote by NC Governor Bev Perdue. Following news the day before that Red Hat – NC’s most notable tech start-up of the last decade – would not move thousands of jobs out of state, her tone was filled with optimism, encouragement and appreciation. Long known as an evangelist for innovation in the state, Perdue’s message was clear:

In North Carolina, entrepreneurs are king.

Introducing the Bev Purdue Keynote

Whether or not the seven LaunchBox portfolio company’s teams felt like royalty, all eyes were certainly on their every move throughout the day. Some ideas were easy to grasp immediately, like Leaguescape’s fantasy sports betting platform, some a little more complex and technical, like KeonaHealth’s consumer healthcare triage minimizing platform (not sure I’m doing the description justice). But one thing was plain as day to all:

Chris Heivly and the LaunchBox team know how to select and nurture great start-ups, and they take care of their portfolio company members like family.

Below is my editorialized recap of the LaunchBox portfolio companies, in the order they presented. For the official descriptions of the companies, go here: http://www.launchboxdigital.com/portfolio/launchbox1/

Health e Me – A BadAss Virtual Weight-Loss Coach

Health-e-Me

HealthyMe helps people lose weight. It lives on your smartphone and on your laptop, pushes you advice on a regular basis through text messaging, for example. I think it’s great because it takes that step towards you – “here’s what you need to do right now” – rather than waiting for you to log on. Also, apparently it’s a smart app. It gets to know you over time and can make personalized decisions based on your past behavior.

Bottom line: Users lost 12.5 lbs on average per month, 3x other leading weight-loss methods. If they can keep up those kinds of results, America may actually have a healthy future.

LeaguescapeFantasy Sports + Online Poker + Social Gaming

Leaguescape

Founder Dan Ziernicki laid it out straight: 35 million people bet on fantasy sports a year, it’s an American pasttime. The online poker market is enormous, and now with Leaguescape, people take their fantasy sports savvy and compete against players online – for real cash. They demo’d a newly re-designed site that (it was hinted) will release in Q1, and I have to admit, the user interface looks like a sophisticated fantasy sports player’s dream come true.

Bottom line: Fantasy sports are ingrained in our culture – players that are highly social, highly competitive and not turned off by the perception that it’s “gambling” will flock to the site. (Like many other online betting sites, Churchill Downs’ for example, Leaguescape is 100% legal).

SlipStream – A Hide Button for Twitter

SlipStream

Arthur Klepchukov has a simple mission – let you filter out the noise on Twitter. As a Tweep myself, I think this is one of those ideas that is so elegant and obvious, it practically has to get acquired by Twitter. Much like Facebook lets you curate your wall and news feed by hiding certain friends, apps or update types, SlipStream adds a hide button to tweets that you see in your Twitter waterfall, and select which aspects of the tweet you don’t ever want to see again. As Arthur put it himself: “It lets you drink from the firehose without drowning.” A perfect example, it lets you highlight text in a tweet, like “4sq.com”, and when  I hide it – presto! I will never see a FourSquare post again. Send this tweet: “I need @slipstre_am now to filter Twitter” and he’ll send you a beta invite.

Bottom line: Web theorists say curation, personalization and customization is where we’re headed. SlipStream’s in the right place, at the right time, with the right idea.

KeonaHealth – Easier Decision-Making for Nurses

KeonaHealth

I don’t know much about the healthcare market, so I’d advise you to dig deeper into KeonaHealth on your own if you’re interested in the market. Basically we get bad advice when we think we’re sick. Some nurses are too cautious, they think everyone needs to be treated immediately. Some are the opposite, everyone goes home even if half need treatment. KeonaHealth solves that problem, hospitals and clinics get more effecient and thus save tons of money, consumers get better healthcare and live a higher quality life. Nurses also benefit, they learn to give better care.

Bottom Line: Triple-win for the consumer, the practitioner and the provider, its in one of the fastest growing industries, and apparently pays for itself in two months.

FiscalPie – It Takes a Village to Manage a Pile (of money)

FiscalPie

Let’s say I’m 32 years old and have 1000 friends on Facebook. I want to know how I’m doing with my funds for retirement, and how that compares to all my friends on Facebook. So I use a FiscalPie Facebook App like Retire Where? and there you go, now I know. There’s a lot of online options out there for money management, but as the founders of FiscalPie put it so well, none of them take into consideration who you are. And who knows you better than Facebook, seriously.

Bottom line: There doesn’t seem to be a true winning solution to the problem of personal finance management for your average person. If they can get in front of enough youngsters getting their first paychecks or exiting their first start-up, maybe this is the solution that will stick.

Spring Metrics – Web Data for Dummies

SpringMetrics

I mentioned curation before as a common web theorist buzzword, the other one is data. Everyone wants to measure, analyze and report data. Mountains and mountains of data. SpringMetrics appears to apply some kind of magic to these mountains of data, allowing decision-makers to do what they should be doing when they’re busy analyzing mountains of data – making good decisions quickly. Watching the demo, the UI for tracking conversions of say, a shopping cart or sign up button on a landing page looks like a breeze. And their reporting dashboard is barebones with just the important facts, and a focus on where your ROI is coming from.

Bottom Line: In a crowded marketplace like web analytics, these guys make it look easy. As a marketer myself, I want to add all of SpringMetrics conversion tracking buttons to my clients’ sites and give it a test run.

CityPockets – A Groupon API?

CityPockets

This is another where I’m not 100% sure I grasp the concept, so if you’re curious to get the real facts please check out their site. It seems to me CityPockets solves this problem: Daily deals sites like Groupon and LivingSocial own the customer relationships, and essentially just rent out the privilege to merchants, leaving merchants without much in the way of a long-lasting relationship opportunity. It’s like they’re speed-dating and aren’t get any phone numbers. CityPockets makes sure you get the girl’s number, or in non-analogy format, the customer’s email, social graph and demographics, and a shot at a second date. It works out for the customer too, because you get discounts.

Bottom line: There’s probably going to be a few winners in this space, kind of like the CMS world with WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc. It’s shifting power to the merchant, let’s hope the merchants treat that power responsibly.

Some Final Thoughts

Events like LaunchBox Digital’s Demo Days always leave me thinking of one key takeaway for would-be entrepreneurs, or anyone pitching a new idea to people:

A presentation is not the same as a demo. If you’re presenting for a room full of people, your passion, your clear solution to a problem or approach to an opportunity, and your ability to use colorful analogies and simple, elegant visuals to communicate your value is what will win over the room (along with good numbers for the investor-types). Save the UI walkthroughs for one-on-one, or direct people to a video after the fact. Don’t waste your slides on product features, why not use them showing us how well you understand your customer instead?

Launchbox Logo

Interested in Submitting Your Company to the Launchbox Digital Program?

According to LaunchBox Executive Director Chris Heivly, they should be opening applications for the 2011 program in April. Put a note on your calendar to check their site in April for updates. http://www.launchboxdigital.com/about/program/

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Can You Retell the Story of 2010 in 02:10?

Posted by on Jan 3, 2011 in Entertainment, Viral | 2 comments

Did All That Really Happen in 2010?

That’s what my friend said when she saw the first draft of 2010: A Search Odyssey.

The initial idea: Take the top Google Search trends from each month of 2010 and make a video mash-up of the corresponding news stories, with “Sprach Zarathustra”, the legendary intro music from 2001: A Space Odyssey, as the soundtrack. Have the videos flying out of moving walls of images from each event (using the CoolIris Firefox plugin), and create an immersive audiovisual experience that would sum up 2010 in 2 minutes and 10 seconds. Check out the video below, and then read on if you’re interested in the origins of the idea and the various tools used in the production process.

The Result: “2010: A Search Odyssey”

Put on your headphones and relive 2010 in 2:11.

The Making of…

Like most ideas we endeavor to bring to life, things changed a bit on the way:

  • When I heard Kanye West’s “Lost in the World” track the other I day I just knew it had to be the theme song for 2010. As luck would have it, it was a perfect counterpoint to Sprach Zarathustra, thus was born the remix soundtrack you hear in the video below.
  • Some of the top breakout search trends of 2010, like “Groupon” or “US Open”, didn’t make very interesting stories, so I fudged it a little bit – adding the Old Spice Guy, for example.
  • The Cooliris browser couldn’t quite create the effect I was looking for, coupled with a too-low frame rate with my screen capture program, so I just mirrored one fly-through of Google Images results for “2010″ and kind of faded it into the background, bringing more attention to the actual videos of the events.
  • Since I put the finishing touches on this the morning of 1/1/11, I thought it would be appropriate to mash in some video from the Times Square ball drop. I think it worked out pretty well.
  • When I exported the video it was 2:11 long. Still appropriate, maybe even more appropriate, I changed the hook to 2:11 instead of 2:10.

The production process was an exciting and complex challenge. I’ll try to lay it out here in a way that’s easy to follow:

1. I found the intro to 2001: A Space Odyssey with the full version of “Spach Zarathustra” on Youtube and used the Firefox plugin Download Helper to download the video to my computer (a Macbook).

2. I downloaded Kanye West’s “Lost in the World” on iTunes, and since you can’t import copyright protected music into Garageband, I screencaptured with Camtasia while the song was playing, to create a blank video with the audio track.

3. I imported both videos (I had to use Handbrake to convert the downloaded video from .flv to .mp4) into Garageband, removed the video tracks, and mashed-up the two songs into a remix. I chopped up “Sprach Zarathustra” to match the timing of my “Lost in the World” remix and miraculously, perhaps somewhat presciently, it worked out to just about 2:10.

4. I imported the final remix into Camtasia, to use as a master guide for my in-head storyboard.

5. Using Google Insights for Search in the Chrome browser (for some reason it doesn’t work right for me in Firefox), I looked up the top searches in each month of 2010 and came up with a list of 24 big events (as ranked by breakout search trends). I curated the list by what I remembered to be big conversation pieces, and added a couple of my own.

6. Using Download Helper again, I downloaded corresponding videos for every story from Youtube and used Handbrake again to convert them all to .mp4 (from .flv). So that I wouldn’t have to import and edit every video in Camtasia, I used Quicktime to trim each video to a much more manageable 10-15 second clip with a good soundbite.

7. In Camtasia, I imported all the videos, including the intro to 2001: A Space Odyssey. I then screen captured: A. the intro of me typing the title in Google Search, and B. the scrolling background image of Cooliris navigating through 30 pages of Google Image results from the search “2010″.

8. After lining up the intro sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Google Search screencapture, and the outro image of the 2001 sunrise, I created hashtags of the search terms, using Camtasia’s Text Editor, and Zoom-In and Fade-Out transition features to produce the flying animation you see with all the search trends. I ordered these to define when each video would come in to view, and provide some additional visual cues for the viewer.

9. I put the Cooliris screen capture in place under the hashtags and faded it out to about 20% transparency.

10. I placed every 2010 event video in time with the corresponding hashtags, and using the same Zoom-In transition, created the flying and disappearing event.

11. Saving a separate Camtasia project, I deleted everything other than the 2010 event video sequence, exported it, and brought it into Garageband to add some EQ and delay to make it stand out just a bit from the Kanye remix. Then I lined that up with the original remix track, re-exported it and imported it again into Camtasia.

12. Needing some filler to add emphasis to the first audio break and more climax to the ending, I found video of the 2011 ball drop in Times Square, downloaded it from Youtube using Download Helper, converted it using Handbrake, trimmed it using Quicktime, imported it into Camtasia, and lined it up to fit the track so the countdown would hit with the final orchestral swell at the end.

13. Exported it, uploaded it to Facebook and Youtube, then through TubeMogul to a couple other video sharing sites, and bam.

2010 in 2:11.

If you made it this far, live in the Triangle area, and are interested in how you can come up with video ideas and distribute video online for your business or passion, you may want to come to the next Going Viral: Making and Distributing Online Video. Thanks for reading!

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