The Sphero BB-8 Origin Story

Back in 2010, Toby, Nader and I went into Techstars.  In the Techstars bunker we took our seats next to two young guys who had a crazy look in their eyes.  These two guys, Ian and Adam, were hard core robotics and mobile engineers and we liked them immediately.

The old Techstars bunker

The problem was that they didn’t really have a good idea for their company.  After a few weeks of discussing what to do with mentors, they decided to make smart hotel room keys.  Keys that could be controlled by your smart phone.  It was a huge market and seemed destined to be a successful company.  There was one issue with their plan: they totally weren’t into it.  One of their mentors asked them “What do you guys do in your spare time?”  They replied that they played games.  He responded, “why don’t you do that instead?”  And thus the robotic ball, the original Sphero, was born.

An old Gearbox t-shirt

Five years later the balls are better, faster and in more styles (check out Ollie, he’s awesome).  They just yesterday released the coolest version yet, the Droid BB-8 that will be featured in the upcoming Star Wars film.

These two guys went from nothing in the basement in Boulder to producing with Disney the coolest toy in the world. A huge congratulations to them. Well done!

Qloud Fundraising: Striking out in Silicon Valley (Part 2 of 14)

This is post #2 about the Qloud experience.  The previous post was about jumping ship and starting the company

Once we started Qloud, we started building the product and also started fundraising.  From day one, looking at our finances, we knew that we had 6 months to get the company to a place where we could raise outside capital.  Not only did we need to get the product built and working but we needed to hone our pitch.  We came up with what we thought was a compelling vision and set out to talk to investors.

Our pitch was that what we learned at Ruckus was that music discovery was a huge problem.  Talking to students it was clear that all discovery was word-of-mouth.  Qloud was going to be a way to allow people to find new music without having to ask your friend down the hall.  We were going to do that in 2 ways:

  1. we would offer a music search engine where you could search by tags and by demographic.  For instance, i want all the music tagged “happy” that is being listened to the most by men age 18-20 who live in Los Angeles.  This would return a list of songs that you could then sample.
  2. we would allow people to tag music inside their iTunes.  By creating a tag cloud, we would enable on-demand playlists for “happy” or “summer” or “breakup” inside the player.  This tagging and information from the iTunes would power the search capability provided in step 1.

Continue reading Qloud Fundraising: Striking out in Silicon Valley (Part 2 of 14)

SaaS is going into battle together every day

I read a good post by Jason Lemkin (former CEO of EchoSign, now partner at Storm Ventures) about hiring VP’s in your company and he had the following passage which totally resonated with me: 

SaaS is going into battle together every day.  Wining that next customer.  Saving that big deal.  Building that crazy feature.  Every day, there’s a new drama.

It’s truly a team effort.  The VP of Sales opens and closes.  The VP Marketing feeds the machine. The VP of Customer Success keeps it running and adds fuel to the fire.  The VP Product makes sure the 1,000+ customers get what they need, as impossible as that is.  And the VP Engineering’s job is to make a business process 10x better than it ever was before, just using computers.  This is teamwork.  And it’s really not that silo’d at all.  You’re all working on different parts of the same puzzle — Customers.

Where I don’t see true teamwork, I almost always see eventual failure.  Or at least, underperformance.

I’m running the product ship and I feel really thankful that we have a great team lined up right now of Toby, Patrick, Riley and Nader.  

It’s a battle out there but with these folks, I like our chances….

Kapost Team Growing

We took a group photo on Friday here at Kapost: 

Looking at this photo and seeing how far we’ve come makes me think back on what’s different now: 

More Great People: We’ve grown from 12 people a year ago to over 50, and have added some amazing people to our team.  From Riley to Jace to Patrick, the number of quality folks roaming our office is incredible.  Our engineering and product team is full of A-players.  Our marketing team is full of innovators.  Our sales team is full of killers. This has been the biggest and best change. 

Great Leadership: My co-founder Toby has really become a great leader and has a real knack at being able to point the ship and get all groups working towards a common goal.  Similarly, my other partner, Nader, is a joy to work with as well. Having someone who can ensure that the Kapost technology is top notch and moving in the right direction and do it in such an effortless way is awesome.  They both aren’t afraid to challenge the team, to hold true to their convictions, and to do what’s right. 

Good Discussions: We also had a board meeting last week where we went through all the areas of our business and how they’re doing.  We’ve recently expanded our board to include Paul Bell and Alex Shootman and as a result these sessions generate some great discussions about how we attack the market and grow faster. 

More Specialized:  18 months ago we were only 12 people.  At that time people wore lots of hats.  At the time, I ran the product group, ran HR, ran account management and participated in sales. Now that we have more people, we can afford to have specialists who are top in their field.  As a result, all of us are going deeper in our areas.  It’s nice to be able to focus, but it’s quite a difference from when I was able to see and hear and participate in many other parts of the business. 

More of more and more.  There are lots of new things. More dogs. More bikes. More GIF’s. More biking rides up Sunshine. More meetings and more meetings.  There are challenges, but that’s why we do it and why it’s fun.  We’ve grown a lot and I’m enjoying it immensely.  

Cool Green Stuff

As Kermit used to say, “it’s not easy being green,” which is why i thought these items were pretty cool…

First there’s a new Puma phone that was announced this week at MWC (the largest mobile conference in the world) and instead of trying to compete with iPhone/Android and trying to do everything it’s just a cool phone, with some cool “fun” features (pedometer, compass, audio player with turntable) and a solar panel on the back so you don’t run out of juice.  Pretty sweet.

Second, there is some more solar powered stuff:

These are lamps on a highway that are wind powered. As far as practical renewable energy concepts go, these wind-powered highway lights are pretty elegant.  I don’t see why we don’t get these on EVERY highway.

Finally, there’s just some bike new from LA:

Los Angeles is known for its freeways, and those guys are impossible to ride a bike on. That’s where a proposal from a cycling activism organization called the L.A Bike Working Group comes in. The group recently proposed a “Backbone Bikeway Network”–a system of bikeways that is comparable to a freeway for cyclists.  I don’t see this happening any time soon, but it would be really great if it did

Making Electricity

Making electricity
Originally uploaded by pescatello

When driving this weekend down to Palm Springs, i came around a bend and saw thousands of windmills. It was an amazing site and got me thinking about our planet. Here are tons of windmills making electricity for all of us. They are reducing our need for foreign oil, and taking us out of the middle east. This wind is free and we’re taking advantage of it. It’s great.

It makes me wish i saw a lot more of these big guys on my drives through the dessert.  Or even on the great midwest plains.  Lord knows it is super windy there.

(note: i did this post directly from Flickr and it worked really well)

Hot, Flat & Crowded


I just finished Tom Friedman‘s Hot, Flat, and Crowded.  It’s a good book that talks about 2 things: climate change and America’s decline.   The first items is due to a number of trends: nations becoming more developed (flat) and pulling people out of poverty (crowded) which in turn requires more energy and increases production (hot).  The second issue is that America also faces a crisis.  A emotional, physical and international crisis.  One quote in the book mentions:

It’s like jumping off an 80-story building.  For 97 stories you feel as if you’re flying.  That’s where the world is now.

America is losing its entrepreneurial drive and its status as the premier innovator in the world. Friendman then goes on to describe that America should solve it’s crisis by getting entrepreneurial about green living and green technology and if America solves its problem, this will in turn solve the world’s problems too.

The book also discusses global warming and oil and their interdependence.  Global warming is here due to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and while people dispute some of the implications of this, it is a fact that we’re putting more and more carbon into the atmosphere.  There’s also an interesting chapter about the oil industry and how the oil-rich countries become increasingly more anti-american and anti-democratic as the price of oil increases.  It also discusses the impact of supplying ultra-conservative Muslim nations with amazing amounts of cash.

It’s worth a read.  Anyone else read it?  If so, what are your thoughts?

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The Most Environment-Friendly Gas Station Ever

I went to fill up yesterday at this gas station in West Hollywood on the corner of Olympic and Robertson and was amazed what i saw.

This place has the following:

  • The facade was made from farm-raised renewable cedar
  • The wall behind the station is wrapped with vines (require almost no upkeep)
  • All the lights are motion sensitive
  • The bathroom is all made from recycled aluminum and recycled glass
  • The ouside structure is highly durable uncoated stainless steel and is completely recycleable
  • 90 solar panels are on the canopy which produce enough energy to power 2-3 average American homes
  • Glass is mixed into the concrete which removes the need for sand
  • The canopy collects rainwater which is then filtered and reused onsite for irrigation and landscaping

All in all it’s pretty impressive for just a standard gas station.  You can read more about what BP is doing at

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"Just Enough" is the new "Big" – but can it work?

They should draw an equation: What level of fame do you need to achieve to keep doing what you want? Because you don’t want any more than that.

if you get too famous, you have people wanting to take a picture of your butt on the beach.

(Tina Fey

These are quotes i read from Grant’s blog and this blog post which discusses that being big enough to do something interesting without burdening yourself is what’s hot right now…

In the 1950s, it was one size fit all: gigantic or nothing at all. We wanted groaning buffet tables. We celebrated the “good life:” by consuming heroic quantities of sugar, salt, fat, nicotine, alcohol and sun (and as much carbon as possible). We wanted cars the size of a 1958 Cadillac, block long conveyances, fins and all. We wanted more shoes the Imelda Marcos. We wanted homes the size of a small town.

The world used a Denny’s model: all-you-eat plus 3000 calories more. “No one leaves this place with an empty plate.” A Martian would wonder at this. Denny’s had given us more food than we could possibly eat. Food was being wasted.

We are hearing a “just enough” sentiment more and more. It’s as if we are as a culture working on a new definition of what’s enough.

You see it with the Green movement and in music. It’s not all about being The Beatles. This makes complete sense to me. As they say in Batman Begins, “with great power comes great responsibility.” And responsibility is exhausting if you’re a celebrity, sports hero or when you’re running your own business.

In the case of an entrepreneur, “just enough” is about control. Staying small(ish), staying private, supplying your own capital, all these mean calling your own shots. Venture capitalists and Wall Street can drive someone else crazy. The just enough entrepreneur can take his or her own chances. When it comes time to choose between interesting and profitable, you can go with interesting. Just enough in this case is about control.

One problem i see with this model is that if you don’t achieve some scale or critical mass you won’t be successful. As the world becomes advertising-based, this means the person with the most engagement, page-views, etc is the one that gets the business and can continue to operate and innovate. The smaller guy doesn’t get the PR and mindshare and thus loses the users to the bigger guy. For web applications dependent on ads, can they survive in a long-tail world?

For bands does this work – can you be a medium-sized “just enough” band and still pay the bills? Ani Difranco, Clap Your Hands, and Tori Amos would say so.

Oil Companies are Hypocrites

I read an interview this morning by former Massachusetts Representative Joe Kennedy, who runs the nonprofit Citizens Energy Corp., which provides discount heating oil to Americans in need in 15 states and the District of Columbia.

On quote of his that stuck out for me was this:

The U.S. oil industry in the last five hears has made over $800 billion in profits. None of them is putting profits back into developing new sources of crude.  ExxonMobile put zero percent of profits into renewable or alternative energy; BP, six tenths of 1%; ConocoPhillips, seven tenths of 1%; Shell, 1.3%; Chevron, 0.5%. And everybody says we’re running out of oil. You know, 74% of the earth’s surface – as we all learned in the third grade – is covered with water.  And we have developed less than 1% of the energy supplies contained underneath the surface of the ocean.  So there’s nothing to suggest to me that right now there’s an imminent crisis

It’s amazing how little these companies are putting towards alternative fuels.  It makes me think all those BP commercials I see on the Discovery Channel are totally hypocritical.