Last week in Colorado, I rented a car that had stereo control buttons on the steering wheel. However, these weren’t on the front of the steering wheel, but on the back, where your fingers would rest while holding the wheel. They were kind of like paddle shifters for changing gears. Driving all over the state for hours and hours, we used the radio a lot, and I quickly became so accustomed to navigating the channels and regulating the volume without ever taking my hands off the wheel. When I got home and back into my car, my first reflex on the steering wheel was to find those paddle-shifter-like buttons. And, I started to wonder, given how much time I spend staring at my iPhone, and that specifically a few of my fingers rest on the back plate, could a phone have touch sensors or even distinct control buttons/interfaces on the backside of a phone?
At the last minute, I was invited to the Friday session of the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. As someone who grew up working the grounds at the local country club, graduating to caddy, and who would sneak out after shifts to play on the back nines during twilight hours, this was a once-in-a-lifetime treat for me. The sport of golf doesn’t always inspire others with its perception (George Carlin remarked that golf courses were one of the most inefficient uses of land), and while the game is changing, at its core it is, I can assure you, a great game.
I wasn’t able to take pictures from the Olympic Club, as the tournament operators basically take your phone before you’re even near the grounds. For 6 hours that day, I roamed around acres of gorgeous, rocky, hilly property, hugging the Pacific and overlooking much of San Francisco — without ever looking at Twitter. I walked around a few holes but mostly planted myself at one approach near the clubhouse to see all the pros hit their third (or second) shots ont the green. While I prefer to watch professional golf on TV, being on the ground level where a pro threads a 220-yard iron within 20 feet of a hole offers an experience even HDTV cannot capture.
There were some aspects of the tournament that were surprising to me. I’d capture it with the term “Corporate Hospitality.” As you can imagine, there’s a lot of money invested in and generated from the U.S. Open. Certain segments of golf fans have disposable income and love garb. The merchandising pavilion would put even the most innovative pop-up stores to shame. Professional golf serves as the perfect vehicle for certain companies to promote their brand, whether in corporate suites, souvenirs, clothing, and even the golfers themselves. No ad space is left blank, yet for the most part, it’s tastefully done.
I don’t carry any ill will toward the corporate side of golf, but I did grow up playing a bit differently, and since I haven’t played consistently for a while, walking this magical course for a day with some good friends and without the distraction of my phone brought back a flood of memories, of waking up in the dark to start caddying, of working the grounds into the grueling hot midafternoon hours, of taking a bucket of balls from 5-7pm into twilight, trying just to hit one out of 100 approach shots perfectly.
On my drive toward Boulder today, we passed by a little blue stone sign that read, in the faintest font: “THE COLORADO SCHOOL OF MINES.” Rich in natural resources, Colorado needed its own central hub to deal with the supply and demand of mined materials. Established back in 1874, it is now consistently ranked in the Top 50 Colleges and Universities in the United States. I’m sure there’s a rich, detailed history as to why these earlier pioneers created this particular school, but I’ll offer another, more pedestrian rationale — they needed it, desperately, and who else would have done it?
While driving, I was reminded of what True Ventures does with its portfolio: “True University.” The firms rounds up its founders and executives and handcrafts a two-day symposium at UC-Berkeley to create a dedicated space for their family members to meet each other, learn from experts, and recharge their intellectual batteries. Beyond this, I don’t know much about what they do — I’m not a part of True or know what happened there, though I’ve gathered it was a great time. You can read more about it here.
This is a very savvy move by True Ventures. In an industry where many players are struggling to articulate what their value-added services really are, this is a terrific example of how venture capitalists can not just create value, but potentially tremendous value. While many venture capital firms bring on PR professionals as partners, or allocate a large spend on bigger PR firms, or try to create and pump up their brand, “True University” is a terrific example of the right kind of thing to do, where everyone wins. Founders and executives get a break, but get to network and learn in a closed, structured environment. True gets to reconnect with its family, face to face. The curriculum is handcrafted to touch on tactical issues companies face on a daily basis. The founders and executives, in turn, get a chance to catch up with their investors, tell them what they’re seeing on the ground, the places where business opportunities or new founders may emerge. Just as the early Colorado settlers were interested in mining the Earth’s minerals in the most efficient manner, new “schools” and curricula such as these help mine new ideas for the web, cloud, and mobile. Out of necessity, and the reality that no one else would do it, True decides to build it themselves. A tip of the hat…
Almost 18 months ago in early 2011, governments in parts of the Middle East and Africa began to undergo dramatic change. At that time, as a history nerd, I became fixated on what online networks of people could actually do, especially with mobile technologies and social media. I then started searching around for companies in this space broadly, and stumbled upon the folks at Votizen. After many months of getting to know the company, I was lucky to receive an offer to join the team full-time last fall, before the GOP primary race of 2012. The team is focused on a big problem (yet knows how to have a good time), and now with the party conventions coming up at the end of the summer, it presents a good time to for me to move on and explore the next thing. Starting on July 2, I’ll become an EIR with Javelin Venture Partners in San Francisco for a few months this summer, which means that I’ll be in the city much more often, near Embarcadero and around SOMA to be specific. It will be exciting to reconnect with old friends and to meet founders and startups in the Valley and in the city, and I will continue all the work with TechCrunch (contributor posts and TCTV’s “In the Studio”), and begin exploring the next thing…
I use Twitter as my main source of news, real-time information, and opinion on top of those facts. As a result of my reliance on Twitter, I grow increasingly sensitive about which accounts I follow and let into my feed. I’m still tinkering with my follow count (shaved down to under 300, but recently met some cool new folks!), but one move I made dramatically improved my experience: I un-followed every Twitter feed for technology news or any news, for that matter. I even un-followed TechCrunch, where I’ve been a contributor for a long, long time now. Why? I realize that if I picked the right ~300 folks to follow in the first place, that they would retweet and/or share all the important news and surface it for my consumption. When I mean I don’t follow any tech feeds, it even includes TechMeme. I’ve tried to cull my list to people who share news with their own insights or judgment, and this filter is serving me quite well — I never feel “behind” the news cycle, but I also never feel drowned out by the noise. (By the way, whenever someone says Twitter is too noisy, it’s worth recalling that it’s not Twitter that’s noisy, but rather that individual hasn’t followed the right accounts. Twitter is the perfect information filtering tool out there — if used properly, the noise should be minimal or nonexistent.)
I had a great time in NYC earlier this week. People have been asking how it was, and I thought about writing up something longer, but it seems as if most of this stuff was covered many times over already, though it’s nearly impossible to find specific video content on AOL properties so I’ve gone and pulled what I think are the most important pieces of video content to share with you, in no particular order:
FRED WILSON in conversation with Mike Arrington, link to video here. As always, there are many little nuggets in this discussion, as is the case whenever Wilson speaks. While he’s always careful with his language, you can read between the lines at a few points.
HARJ TAGGAR in conversation with Kim-Mai Cutler, link to video here. The folks at Y Combinator continue to grow in influence and also size, and the most interesting piece of this discussion is that Taggar mentions YC has its own internal database for its founders to create and share notes about specific investors, sort of like “The Funded.”
CHI-HUA CHIEN in conversation with David Kirkpatrick, link to video here. This was probably my favorite talk during the conference, one of the most articulate, thoughtful explanations of what the last five years have brought in the consumer web/mobile space and what the next five may bring, as well. If you’re going to watch one video, this is it.
Startup #1: OPEN GARDEN, link to video here. Perhaps the most disruptive idea presented at the conference. The company has built a multi-platform application that allows users to pool their data/wifi resources and create ad-hod mesh networks, bypassing many of the carriers’ own rules. One of the founders also started BitTorrent. This pitch reminded me of what Lucius Fox did at the end of “The Dark Knight.”
Startup #2: GTAR, link to video here. This was a crowd favorite, in many ways. They are building hardware to pair with mobile phones to help teach guitar, but most fascinating is that during the conference, they received private investment plus funds from their Kickstarter campaign. This, to me, embodies what could happen in early-stage funding over the next few years, a hybrid model where the power of venture capital declines while the power of crowd funding increases. This could form new models that blend both of those types of capital.