Paris Attacks at the Stadium

I’m here in Paris for a work event with about 600 other co-workers. Last night we all had the night off and me and 2 colleagues decided to go see the France vs. Germany soccer match.  We bought some tickets online and thought we were in for a super fun night.

Little did we know what would happen. In the morning, this would be the headlines from the papers:

The match started and our seats were fantastic. We were right on the left sideline with a great view of Martial. He was incredible and scored a great goal.

About 10 minutes before half, at 9:15pm, everyone in the stadium heard a massive BOOM. It was loud and I immediately said to Jon, “that sounds like a bomb.”  Even the players noticed.  However, everyone went back to watching the game and the players kept playing.  Here’s how it sounded:

About 5 minutes later, right before half, another BOOM. It was loud. Having never been to a soccer match in the French stadium, i thought that maybe it was something that happens regularly.  Nobody seemed to be miffed about it, so i thought it was just part of the scene.

At halftime, i was standing in line for the restroom with Jon. We saw all the security guards start to close all the gates to the stadium, locking us in. We thought that was pretty strange. We told our other friend Marc, who has lived in France before, about it. He said that it was typical so they can route everyone out a central exit when the game is over. Seemed like a logical answer. We went on watching the game. You can see from this picture that we weren’t yet aware of what was happening:

I really started to think things weren’t right when i noticed there were about 10x more security standing between the crowd and the field. At this point you would think we would be freaking out, but we weren’t. We asked the people behind us if they knew anything. Nothing. Nobody knew a thing and the game continued. Nobody knew that the two blasts were bombs exploding outside the stadium at a fast food restaurant and a brasserie.  Nobody knew that the French President who was at the game was secretly evacuated.

About 15 minutes into halftime, at 9:40, there was another BOOM.  Again nobody paid it any attention and continued to watch the game. When the game finished, we were walking out of the stadium when there was a general announcement that there was an incident outside one part of the stadium.  There was a collective “hmm, that’s interesting,” and they continued to the exits. It was calm but you could lots of sirens going on outside the stadium.

As we were exiting, you could see hundreds of police and hear lots of sirens.  Then, the stadium something happened. I’m not exactly sure what it was but the people at the front of the crowd turned around scared shitless and started running as fast as they could back into the stadium. Everyone else started doing that too. It turned into a stampede. Older people and kids fell to the ground and were getting trampled.  We ran too.  After getting away (about 400 yards) from the area that people were running from jon and I reconnected with Marc and walked the opposite direction. At this point, kids were bawling and sirens were blasting. It was clear that the world was not right. We were very scared, but still in the dark about what was happening.

We finally got out of the stadium and called an Uber.  Miraculously one got to us and we told him to take us home as fast as possible. We got a call from another colleague was at a hotel.  He was walking to dinner when he came across a man in the middle of the street waving a gun. He then saw someone who was shot pouring blood. He ran to a restaurant to get cover, but they weren’t letting people in so he kept running. Eventually he got inside and called us.  Our Uber arrived about 15 minutes later to grab him and we all continued back to our listing.

My night wasn’t nearly as scary as his or some of my other colleagues but it was still unnerving. Not knowing whats happening and seeing fear on the faces of everyone in the crowd is terrifying.

When we got back to our apartment, we got online and devoured the news for hours.  It was then that we learned the facts of the night. The scariest event being the massacre at the Bataclan music club.

At that club, a few gunmen entered with AK rifles and opened fire on the 1500 people.  Most people ran to the exits. Many fell to the ground and tried to cover themselves.  The gunmen continued to fire for 10-15 minutes on the people who were laying on the ground. They reloaded 4 times. Here’s a quote from one survivor,

Ten minutes … 10 horrific minutes where everybody was on the floor covering their head. We heard so many gunshots and the terrorists were very calm, very determined. They reloaded three or four times their weapons. They didn’t shout anything. They didn’t say anything. They were unmasked and wearing black clothes and they were shooting at people on the floor, executing them.

What we know now, the next day, is that there were killings in 7 different locations and about 160 people are confirmed dead. It’s still unclear how many are injured. We also learned that the stadium bombs were supposed to go off later, when we were exiting the stadium and not during the match.

We found out today that there were 3 terrorist outside the stadium.  The first tried to get into the stadium and when security discovered the bomb on his chest, he backed away and detonated. Then the 2nd one went off 5 minutes later.  The police then found the 3rd person and as they pursued him, he donated himself.   This is why the police at the stadium wanted us to stay in the arena. I’m so thankful that their plan failed.

My company picked Paris in November as the time and location for our big annual conference to send 600 employees. We also choose Friday night as the night to spend out exploring the city. Almost everyone spent the night in and around the areas of the shootings. Talk about bad timing. While many of them were next to the events, luckily nobody was harmed.

I feel extremely lucky and now all my thoughts are around getting home and getting back to my family.

Yes, you’re talented. What else can you do?

The film composer Tom Holkenborg talked about how he keeps getting film work in this article. He says:

If you talk to other film composers and to people who work in the industry, the fact that you’re an original, talented musician is a given fact. What is left then? It’s, how are you as a person in a room? Do you deliver on time? Do you make the movie better? Do you understand what the director wants? Can you walk that really fine line of politics when things get sour and you help solve the problem?

– Tom Holkenborg, aka JUNKIE XL, composer of “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Black Mass”

I love this.  This is how I feel about work too.  The fact that you’re talented and can actually do the work really well has become a given. You have to be able to go beyond that and be both great at what you do and good at actually working WITH people.

The Future of Cars

I’ve been reading and listening a lot about cars and their evolution lately. It’s pretty fascinating.

It seems that three trends are converging to shape our future:

  1. Electric cars are becoming a real option.  This changes the game by making the hard part of building a car shift from making an engine to making a battery. This is a much different, and much easier, problem.  Opens the market to many more and different companies. 
  2. Self-Driving cars.  This has been happening at Google for over a decade. Now Tesla has one, so does Audi and BMW, and Uber has said this is the future and is pouring resources into it. Apparently the only hard parts remaining for self-driving cars to figure out is how to drive in bad weather and how to see through fog and haze.  I’d say that lots of humans struggle in these areas too. 
  3. On-demand cars.  You can call a car at the push of a button.  Uber and Lyft’s come to me  in under 3 minutes now.  They are everywhere and growing.

The mix of all three of these make for some interesting scenarios.  Some quick ones that i’ve been pondering about:

  1. In the future, you own a self driving car.  You go to dinner in the city and it drops you off at the restaurant. It then can drive around the city and pick up people (like an Uber) and make some quick cash.  Will we allow just any self-driving car to do this?
  2. What do the interior of these new self-driving cars look like?  You don’t have to face forward and you don’t have to have a dashboard. You don’t even have to sit up — you could be lying down and sleeping while they drive.  The extra sleep or productive time I would gain from a self-driving car is hours a day week and days a month.  The found time would be incredible. 
  3. In the future, do people even own cars or are there just a lot of on-demand vehicles of them out there that are available on demand?
  4. Self-driving cars have better collision detection that humans.  They can communicate with cars around them and decide on where they are going ahead of time. In that case, do we even have lanes on the road anymore? Do we have stop signs and stoplights?  Are there a lot more bicyclists because you know it’s 100% safe to ride your bike on the road?
  5. Who makes all of these cars? The car industry is $1 trillion. To put that into perspective: the global advertising industry is $500 billion.  The 3 luxury car manufacturers of BMW, Lexus an Audi make up a market about the same size of the iPhone market.  There are very few things in this world that are as big as the car industry. So, you can see why it’d be enticing for Apple to get into this game.

It’s interesting that Uber thinks of the driver as a major cost issue in their platform and getting rid of the driver gets rid of 70% of the costs of a trip.  This is why they are aggressively exploring “smart routes” and Uber Pools as 1.0 version of driverless cars. 

I’ve noticed that some of the people I talk to about this are hesitant or resistant to this future. People love their cars. I know that i do.  But i have to imagine that people use to love their horses too.  In fact, i’m guessing that people liked horses back in the day more than we like cars now.

 

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!

Selling to Buzznet (Qloud story 12 of 14)

This is post #12 about the Qloud experience.  The previous post was about about the launch of Qloud.  You can read that here

Towards the end of 2007, we knew we had great growth but an unsustainable business model. We also knew that we were running out of cash. Both Toby and I felt that we had to exit this company or raise a big round of funding. We didn’t think the big round was possible, so we started looking for an exit.

One company that we thought would be interesting was Buzznet. This was a new music-oriented social network that was part social network and part blog network. It was growing quickly and had Universal Music as a main investor. They seemed like a good candidate. Our board member, Jim Bankoff, knew their CEO well and made an introduction. Nothing happened.

Then a fellow named Happy Walters came into Revolution’s offices (where we worked). We met him and he said he also knew Tyler and could make a connection. Nothing really happened.

A few weeks later we were in Los Angeles for some reason and we were talking about Buzznet and Toby and I decided to do a tactic that is unconventional but always works. We stopped by unannounced in person. We just went to their office and asked if Tyler Goldman was available. If you show up, you at least will have them come say hi and tell you in person that they aren’t available. That’s what happened, but that got us on his radar and started the conversation.

When we talked to we flat out told him that we would amenable to an acquisition. He thought that sounded interesting and followed up a week or two later that he had talked with the board and they would like to pursue what it looks like also. A few meetings later (including a trip I took to Happy’s ranch in Montana) and we had an offer from them to get acquired for $10 million. We were also going back and forth with MTV/Viacom about an acquisition so we had some competition that kept it interesting.

This would be a good outcome for us as we had raised only $3 million and would land us in a place where we could really grow the business.

We also had to convince Steve Case and Revolution about the deal. I’ll never forget a meeting we had in his office once the offer came. He sat Toby and I down and said something like,

“I started America Online in the 80’s. It took us years to get traction. We built little by little and it was hard but steady. During that time I had many offers to get acquired. I turned down all of them and built AOL up to be worth over a hundred billion dollars. You guys get your first offer and you want to sell?”

Toby’s response was classic. He replied, “Steve, I sincerely appreciate your success at AOL. But, I’m poor. I’ve been building a startup with no salary for two years. I have 3 kids. This deal changes my life. I understand what you’re saying, but we want to sell.”

To Steve’s credit he immediately said, “Okay, then let’s do it.” And that was that.

The story doesn’t end there. Tyler Goldman is killer and he’ll squeeze blood anyway he can. Through the diligence he saw our bank account and knew that we were running out of cash. He then went silent. He refused to return emails and phone calls from anyone. He waited weeks for us to burn through cash. Then when he finally re-emerged, knowing we had no cash in the bank, he said there’s a new deal on the table for $9 million. Take it or leave it. It was a dick move but we had no other options so we took it. I truly think he would have kept bleeding us if he didn’t have to work with us afterwards.

Of course the deal was all cash, which is what we wanted because we were doubtful of Buzznet’s success. But Case wanted “some skin in the game” in case it did great so we switched the deal to be have stock and half equity. Of course, Tyler ran Buzznet into the ground just 3 years later and its stock became worthless. So, that “skin in the game” decision was really painful.

The sale happened in Spring of 2008. We all moved out to Los Angeles except one of us. I was now SVP of Product for all of Buzznet. Qloud now had a home and licensed music. But, when the financial crisis hit later that year, Tyler shut Qloud down and the service was killed. We went on to work on the rest of the Buzznet business. All in all, the actual service that had 10’s of millions of users only existed for maybe 9 months.

The More Open Your Network, The More Successful You’ll Be

I just read this article by Michael Simmons and it was really interesting.  It states that that simply being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success.

The idea is that people in open networks have unique challenges and perspectives.  Because these curious folk are part of multiple groups, they have unique relationships, experiences, and knowledge that other people in their groups don’t.  These views lead to more and better opportunities. 

 The chart for this is:

 

It also interesting to see how this played out with Steve Jobs. He always advocated for diversity of experiences. In a Wired interview in 1995, he said: 

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.
It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.
Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences.
So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.

I love this position. The experiencing of different industries, different cultures and different perspectives is a great goal to have. 

Achieving Massive Growth (Qloud story 11 of 14)

This is post #11 about the Qloud experience.  The previous post was about about the launch of Qloud.  You can read that here

Once we launched, we grew extremely fast. I have to say that being part of a company that is blowing up is really really fun. Everyone is constantly happy. As a product person, this is what you work for and when it happens, it feels great.

We did some things that were shady and other things were legit and very smart. Some things we did:

  1. We wouldn’t let you use the application unless you invited 25 friends. We had a nice UI that let you quickly select 25 faces and then it would open. While extremely annoying, it worked really well.
  2. We integrated deeply into the new feed. We knew all of our users play history, including from iTunes and we’d launch really interesting news feed items to friends that read, “Of all the songs played last week by your friends, here are the 3 not in your library. Click here to play.” This is great music discovery, right in your news feed.
  3. We started understanding and using the link sharing networks. Lots of other apps were selling the ability to recommend users download other apps. You could buy space there and buy installs. We experimented a lot with all of them.  Some were pretty cheap and effective.  Interestingly, Steve Case really dug into this too. For someone with his success, we was not afraid to get into the weeds. I also give a lot of credit to our lawyer and BD guy here, Jim Delorenzo (now head of Sports at Amazon), for this success as he really figured it out.

I give Noah R-S (now Chief Product Officer at DailyMail) a lot of credit for hacking Facebook. He understood it at a level that probably only a few dozen in the world did.

We also started exploring a business model by selling links to ringtones.

Our growth was so fast that we’d get lots of calls from record labels and lawyers asking to shut us down. They saw the streams happening on Qloud and wanted it to stop. It took them a while to realize that we had co-opted YouTube for the streams.

—————————–

The next post is about how we sold to Buzznet. Read it here.

I Love Luxe

Parking in San Francisco is a pain and I always dreaded visiting some of my friends as i knew i’d be circling for a long long time.

The Luxe team

That is, until i met Luxe.  They are an on-demand valet service.  About 10 minutes before you arrive somewhere, you open the app and drop a pin at where you’re going.  They will then have someone meet you there who will then take your car and park it for you in one of their lots.  The valets cruise around on little foot scooters which they put into your trunk when they take your car.

Also, you can have them bring your car to a different spot than where you dropped it off.  So, on a friday night if I meet my friend at his house and then we walk to dinner and then take a Lyft/Uber to a movie/show somewhere, i can then have my car delivered to me once we’re all done so I can drive home.

The price is what makes it doable.  It’s $5 an hour or $15 daily max. It’s less than most garages in the city but with more convenience.

They also have a $300 monthly unlimited use rate which is also cool if you want to use it for work or if you don’t have a parking spot at home.  I somehow doubt that it’s that profitable, or profitable at all as a business, but if VC’s want to fund my convenience, i’ll take them up on that offer.

Note: they just switched all of the employees to be W2 workers.  Interesting.

Qloud and Facebook’s Platform (9 of 14)

This is post #9 about the Qloud experience.  The previous post was about about how we used YouTube as a music engine. Read that post here

The year is 2007 and we’re building as fast as we can our new music service.  It’s going to be a full-powered music streaming service on top of a collaborative music search engine and it’s going to be sweet.

Before we launched I went out to lunch with Sean Parker (known by many of you as Justin Timberlake in the movie The Social Network).  At the time he had left Facebook and was about a year into his new VC gig at Founders Fund.  We sat down to lunch and the subject immediately turned to our upcoming launch. He asked, “Hey, do you know about Facebook’s platform?”  I didn’t and he went to explain it to me.  Basically FB needed a way to expand and what better way than have companies build their product in to Facebook.  While the 3rd party companies would provide the development, Facebook would allow you to message and add their users as your users.  It sounded cool.

I went back to the team and explained this upcoming launch.  I got in touch with Dave Morin (yep, the Path founder used to be head of Facebook platform) and he gave us access to the platform.  Our plan was to build a subset of our service on Facebook and gain some early users.  Then, when we launched our new website we could make a claim that says, “We already have 10,000 users on Facebook.”

It did not go that way at all.

Launching on Facebook right when the Platform was launching was probably one of the best things we did. Because it was new, it had a bunch of early adopters.  It also had a bunch of loopholes that allowed us to market and message millions of users.  If you remember getting a ton of requests to join some stupid game, that was the platform.  We used to do things like “You can’t install our app unless you invite 30 friends.” and people did it.

Of course Facebook wasn’t happy about this, but we weren’t going to stop.  Kudos goes to our colleague Noah who really figured out how to growth hack the crap out of it.

Lessons learned: at both Kapost and Qloud, we grew because we attached ourselves to a tidal wave in the industry. In Qloud it was the Facebook platform and Kapost it was Content Marketing.  Facebook eventually would shut down the platform but not until much later.  Heck, even Zynga used it to become a billion dollar company leveraging Facebook’s platform. Sometimes the bright and shiny new thing in the industry is worth going after.


The next post is about the actual launch. Check that out here.

Please Put Your Dock on the Side

One of my little pet peeves is how people use their dock on their Mac. 

Here’s my logic. What do you do most on your computer?  You read web pages from top to bottom.  Because of this, your page is maximized from top to bottom and you spend most of your time scrolling.  There is usually extra space to the sides of the page. 

Why then, do you take up extra space on the bottom of the page with a dock?  You are constrained vertically but have surplus horizontally.  It makes so much sense for you to have your dock on the left or the right. 

If you have it on the bottom and set to hide that solves most of the problem, but because you scroll so much up and down, you can hit your dock by accident a bit.  But it works.   

My rant for the day. 

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