April 29, 2012 • 1:50 pm 1
One area I’m thinking about these days is what I call the “Invisible Internet”, so I thought I’d put a post out there in case there are apps and products I should be looking at. Feel free to reach out if you’re building a company in this space…
Big data is gaining a lot of interest from VCs. e.g. companies that can crunch data and find patterns for large corporations. I’m interested in Big Data for the Little Guy. We invested into Worksmart Labs, who make a great product called Noom. Noom is a pedometer for your Android device. It’s fantastic because once you’ve installed it, you don’t need to do anything else to gain benefits from the app: it sits there and watches you, tracking every step you take. Of course, you probably installed it because you want to know how much exercise, walking etc you’re getting. But that’s the beauty of it – it just sits there silently tracking you. Piling up that data, zero effort from you (except the walking).
I have a withings scale at home, which works on the same principle. I weigh myself every day, but my withings account captures all the data and starts crunching. Fitbit has just announced its wifi scale as well. Strava.com is a cycling site that compares me to others, crunches my data to tell me how hard any given ride was (Strava’s Suffer Score). I love it.
Clearly, wireless healthcare is an area where I’m seeing the Invisible Internet become productized, but there are other areas as well – self writing journals that track where you go, smart home applications that monitor your energy consumption, etc.
Maybe it’s age, but more and more I’d prefer my apps just figure out what it is I’ve done, and what it is I want vs having to work on getting the information in and out of them – I want to be surprised and delighted by insights or information that I would have missed out on otherwise.
I hope to see more of these apps in the future. Or maybe not
February 13, 2012 • 7:54 pm 0
We all know you can “slide to unlock” your iPhone, but did you know you can “slide to open” your various alerts?
This is what happens when you get a text message (or any alert for that matter) and slide it:
This will open directly to the message vs opening the phone, then drilling down to the message.
Enjoy your new-found productivity.
January 10, 2012 • 8:33 pm 2
Here they are, in no particular order…
Day One offers a well designed journal app. Twitter and Facebook are great for shouting to the world, but sometimes you’d like to keep your thoughts to yourself. Day One is a great app that lets you do that. You can set a reminder for any given period – I have it set weekly, and I type a few lines about what’s happening. Available for both iOS and Mac OS X.
I’m a cyclist. Strava is hands down the easiest to use app I’ve come across. It works on your iPhone, your Android device and also can handle data from your Garmin. If you cycle and want to track your training, and see how you compare against yourself and others- grab this now. It’s free, although if you love it, I’d recommend you upgrade to their Premium service. Available on iOSand Android.
I have an account with Etrade – logging into their mobile app is a pain. Wikinvest lets me keep an eye on my portfolio and the news- all protected with an easy to use 4-digit pin code. Available on iOS and Android.
Livestrong – My Plate
Strava is a great place to track your cycling, and My Plate is a great place to track what you’re fueling yourself with. This is the best site I’ve found to get a good picture of what I’m eating – and has a large enough database to auto populate with what you’re eating – so you don’t have to enter too many details. Once you’ve used the app for a week, it understands what you normally eat, so those foods are right at your fingertips. It costs $2.99, but is worth it. Available on iOS and Android.
Keeping a handle on your finances isn’t easy. Mint.com isn’t available in Europe, so I’ve spent a lot of time looking at – and testing- various financial applications. Money from Jumsoft is by far the best in my opinion. The apps are simple and well designed, and syncing between my iPhone and Mac desktop has been seamless. The apps aren’t cheap – but, I knowing where my money goes (I know, into these apps…). It also handles non-US currencies just fine (which is not always a given). Available on iOS and Mac OS X.
I’m not 100% happy with the Gmail iPhone app, but I’ve been using it since launch and I will say I like it. A lot. A native app would be much better and more responsive, but the functionality offered by a Gmail app is fantastic. I do prefer the Gmail app over the native Mail app for managing my gmail account. Available on iOS and built into Android.
October 14, 2011 • 6:00 pm 2
I picked up an Android device earlier in the year – I’ve been watching the platform and app ecosystem develop, and decided it was time to make the jump…
That’s a huge deal for me, the Apple Fan Boy, bought a non-Apple piece of hardware. Turns out, the hardware switch wasn’t as critical as the software switch. And I don’t mean the OS.
I stopped buying any content from Apple a long time ago. Sure, I used iBooks to test it out, but that’s all. No Apple content lived on my iPhone. When you buy digital content from Apple, you don’t actually own it, so getting your iTunes library, iBooks library, etc onto an Android device is a no go.
Having options (for portability) is very important; owning your data (or content) is more important. And, as we all know, if you can’t take something with you, it’s not yours…
In many ways, I now care less and less about owing content, and more about content portability, or more importantly accessibility. Cloud services like Spotify and We7 have made my music life so much easier. Password = Music. What could be easier?
Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader is all about accessibility (and circumnavigating the 30% Apple App Store tax). Via Amazon’s Cloud Reader, Password = Book Collection. On my iPhone, iPad, Android and Desktop. Easy.
Photos are slightly better than purchased content, but Apple still makes your life difficult. Photos on your photo roll in iOS will live there (mostly) thanks to restrictions by Apple. The new iCloud sync means they get backed up, but online access/sharing would be better. Password=Camera roll restore, which great, but… for Android, Lightbox is pioneering the way with an awesome “connected photo roll”. Lose your phone, log back in, and all your pictures are there. And there’s a great online gallery where you can edit and share, so Password = Photos. Easy.
Everything else I use lives in the cloud anyway… which I can get ubiquitous access to. The implication there is, data security will mean everything in the future. Both Google and Facebook (!!) will allow you to export and backup the data you’ve stored with them. Definitely a good alternative if you’re storing all your pictures and memories online. Look for a future post on data security-”it’s 4am, do you know where your data is?”.
May 10, 2011 • 6:42 pm 2
Last April, I posted that:
Europe has always had problems gaining start-up momentum – there’s no epicenter, there’s no critical mass- and there are no Heros.
The Wired 100 list has gone a long way towards making 100 heroes visibile. Big applause for the Wired team. This year’s Wired 100 is on stands now – one person I was happy to see on the “bubbling list” – John Taysom. He’s an awesome guy. I’ve got a few other personal favorites that aren’t on the list yet, but I’ll cheer for them in silence… oh, and obviously congrats to everyone that’s on the list.
Europe *has* a start up scene now – and fortunately for me – most of it revolves around London. Spotify, Mind Candy (Moshi Monsters), Soundcloud – all amazing companies are doing well on a global stage. Young startups like Groupspaces or Lightbox (go David, go Thai) are popping up and getting funding from tier 1 investors.
I could count on one hand the number of hot European startups two years ago. I can count them on two hands now. I might even have to throw in a toe or two as well.
Silicon Roundabout is real now – thanks largely to initiatives like techhub. Seedcamp continues to expand it’s footprint and pulls together the who’s who of the European start-up world during seedcamp week each September. There’s an event this weekend spear-headed by Songkick for developers – silicon milkroundabout. Sign up for it here. This just wasn’t happening 2 years ago…
There’ve been some interesting companies getting acquired -M&A activity is picking up significantly - and money is getting returned to investors in Europe. But, we need to see more high-profile European IPOs. Skype
is grabbing for the ring, just got bought by Microsoft for a cool $8.5bn, Daniel Ek at Spotify is (rumored) to be gunning for an IPO. (That would be awesome if you did Daniel.)
All of this is coming together to make London a hot spot. It’s a great time to be here… (plus the weather’s really great this year). One more turn of the wheel and I think we’re there -
April 11, 2011 • 9:05 pm 4
Facebook is going to be irrelevant in 10 years time. Google has lost the search war. Microsoft has lost the desktop war.
We live in exciting times. Change is in many ways the only constant we have. I started the post with what many would consider heresy- if you don’t believe me, or disagree, you have forgotten the rise and fall of all tech companies.
Altavista. Yahoo! – these were the kings of the search engine mountains before a little company called Google arrived. Google was the king of search on the web, and I would argue they still are. But they’ve already lost the mobile search war… Foursquare is far and away my favorite mobile search tool – I need to find a place to eat nearby, figure out if it’s good, and then move on to my next stop. Google fails miserably at this task, and fourquare shines…
Facebook connects you with lots of people you lost contact with 10 years ago. You’re so excited to reconnect. And then you remember why you forgot about them: “Just gave kitty some more milk!”. Yay. Please kill me now… I posted ages ago that the future of the web was all about privacy and intimacy… group chats are still trying to figure themselves out, but current examples are beluga or groupme. They’re amazing and very useful for communicating with small groups of people that matter. I’d be willing to bet you spend more time in this class of apps in 5 years time than on Facebook (or rather that anyone under twenty will. That may or may not be you in 5 years time.)
Finally, in my mind, there are two reasons we use any given app or service 1) raw utility. it works, you use it. Wikipedia is a great example. 2) peacocking. Part of what makes apps gain great popularity is an ability to make a user appear cooler than his/her peers. Using facebook 4 years ago was very cool, very cutting edge. Today, you’re one in 500 million. Using beluga? Congratulations! you and many thousands of other people are using it too (oh wait, facebook acquired beluga. smart move. maybe it will take a little longer to become irrelevant)…. Using google 10 years ago gave you a search edge, today, you’d better be using Quora, etc.
The list of companies is endless, but one of my final favorites is Myspace –> which has been replaced by Soundcloud…. a large part of my job is to try to figure out what’s hot next… the problem is no one can actually see beyond the event horizon. The mobile is a huge disruptor right now – and is driving the up and coming companies I’ve mentioned in this post. It’s a fun game to play, trend spotting and finding cool, useful apps… if you’ve got favorites as well, post them in the comments, or send them via twitter @jasonball. I’d love to know what’s hot. or not. but please don’t send me a note about geocities.
February 1, 2011 • 7:55 pm 0
Ok, you’ve finished the Thoughts on Entreprenurship series and you’re thinking:
“This doesn’t really work for me.”
I’d say you’re probably right. Thinking big and shooting to be the next Twitter isn’t for everyone. So,
Don’t raise external money- bootstrap. Don’t hire A-team players (don’t hire anybody for that matter). Don’t go to a hub – work from home. Don’t do any of those things. It’s OK. Worry only about launching, making the best product you can with limited resources and get profitable as quickly as you can. This is really the equivalent of a base hit vs a homerun. And for many businesses, and people, it makes sense. Maybe you have a day job that you *want* to keep (or need to keep), no problem. Run something in your spare time. If it starts to grow nicely, you can always leave your day job to run the business. Or not.
By keeping things small, you maintain control and flexibility. But small now doesn’t mean small forever; but it does mean you can take your time. Just be sure to get your product or service out the door as quickly as you can.
A quick story (no names for this one) to illustrate my point: A model airplane fan in one European country decided to start importing planes from China and selling them on eBay locally. He started small- buying only 10 planes or so and then reselling them. Once they were sold, he bought more- 100, then 500, then 1000, and so on. The business is now turning over 7 figures a year, with a very healthy profit. He runs the business with his wife out of their home outside of the Capital. The company will never make the front page of the Wall Street Journal, but it’s a *great* little business.
I recently launched 700x23c.com. It’s a small site that sells bicycle tires. Was I looking to start a big business, with big money and a big team? Nope. It’s small, it’s me, a few tires, some boxes and a printer. Total cost to launch- maybe $200 (I bought a good printer). Will it grow? I hope so… Do I do love it? Absolutely. Am I wearing 700x23c cycling jerseys on all my rides? You’d better believe it. (Side note to the non-cycling geek: 700x23c is the size of a road racing tire. If you ride a road bike, you know this number. You might even know what the “c” means). It’s a small project that with a little tlc may just become like the airplane business above, and turn a nice profit.
So I practice what I preach to some extent; I think small. (but try to think Big during my day job).
Good luck with your business- which ever road you take…
January 24, 2011 • 9:32 pm 2
January… a month for reflecting and prioritizing the new year.
I always kick off the year with a quick retrospective of M&A activity, with graphics thanks to my friends at ICON Corporate Finance, based here in sunny London.
This picture says it all:
Average exit valuations have returned to pre-recession levels, above 2x sales, and are outstripping the ratios seen in recent years. In the UK, the highest multiple was Moneybookers, which sold at 9x sales. In the US, both Facebook and Groupon made headlines with their paper valuations at $50bn and $6bn, implying multiples of 25x and 12x, respectively. (Remember that Playfish was acquired by EA in 2009 for $300M, which was reported to be 4x revenues.)
While Facebook wasn’t an exit, and the Groupon offer was just that – an offer, 2011 looks like it’s going to be the Year Things Change. There are numerous venture-backed companies generating $100M+ in revenues that are going to IPO (some of our portfolio included). The NASDAQ was up 17% over the course of 2010, and 2011 is starting off well. My employer, Qualcomm, has already announced a $3bn acquisition of Atheros this month. Linkedin, Skype, Zipcar, etc. are all teeing up IPOs this year. I’m very bullish that 2011 is going to be the year we’ve all been waiting for. VCs and Entrepreneurs alike.
Hold on to your hats.
January 18, 2011 • 6:31 pm 0
This is the 3rd Key Milestone from the Thoughts on Entrepreneurship series…
Profitability = Independence. Raising money is a pain- no matter who you are. It’s time consuming, and it’s a distraction. The sooner you can get to profitability the better. Yes, there’s the Twitter model of Build it and They will Come- worrying about revenues and profits later, but personally, I don’t think that’s what you want to do or how you want to think. Profitability should be a *choice* you can choose not to be profitable- by scaling faster – but fundamentally you should be able to cut (or curtail) headcount and be a profitable business very early in the game- this is ultra important because you never know when the economy is going to take a dip and venture funding is going to dry up. From the minute you take funding, the clock is ticking. And you’d better be running for the profitability line.
Ask any entrepreneur how much better they sleep at night knowing their company is at break even, or profitable. They’ve made it… sure, there’s still work to do to scale further, but they know they made it to first base. They’ve got a chance- and they don’t need anyone’s help (on the financing front) unless they decide they want it.