Blog // Startups
Dave Walters

Dave Walters

Website URL: E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Social Media Day Rolls Atlanta Style

Thursday, 01 July 2010 04:35 Published in Startups

Today (June 30) was the inaugural Social Media Day – as christened by Pete Cashmore and the Mashable crew. With more 600 meetups planned across 93 countries, it was cool to see Atlanta slotted in as the 7th largest event in the world according to Bigger than other tech-laden cities like Boston, Philly, Chicago or even San Francisco.

The event was organized by Joe Hamm of Mobilization Labs, and it went off without a hitch – with Joe even sporting a MailChimp hat for the majority of the panel discussion (and our cameras LOVE the MailChimp hat). And HUB Atlanta was definitely rockin’ hard tonight with more than 200 attendees and Regator’s Kimberly Turner spinning tunes.

Stay tuned for more video coverage of the event starting tomorrow, but in the meantime here’s Pete Cashmore’s thoughts on the event:

The Greatest Brands Live In Our Hearts

Wednesday, 30 June 2010 05:22 Published in Startups

I was consuming my favorite RSS feeds this afternoon, and ran across a true gem courtesy of Brad Feld. I find his blog an elegant mix of great ideas, funding advice, personal insights and self-promotion (usually re: achievements or acquisitions of TechStars Boulder companies). He pointed out a recently published TEDTalk by Simon Sinek on ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action’. I’m a long-time consumer of TEDTalks and a multiple TEDx alumnae – and this was the most relevant 18 minutes of video I’ve watched in years.

Simon uses many examples to prove his ‘Golden Circle’ theory, including Apple, the Wright Brothers, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Tivo (as a negative example). He outlines three concentric circles with very simple labels: Why, How and What – with Why in the middle and What on the outside. His contention is that every successful brand in the world emanates from a core position of ‘Why’ – they seek to connect with users who think like they do. And the most floundering companies become quickly lost in fact sheets and product specs. It’s the difference between Apple calling the iPad ‘magic’ campaign and HP’s website featuring laptops at 50% off for July 4th. He summarizes in one simple thought: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

The incredible simplicity and power of this talk got me thinking about how this applies to entrepreneurs (myself included). For me, it all boils down to one question: Does your team include a marketing, brand experience ninja? Do you have your Steve Jobs? The traditional thinking of matching up a great bizdev person with a genius engineer as co-founders leaves out a HUGE part of the equation. And perhaps that’s the missing element in the equation around here – one much worse than a lack of available capital. Mostly because you can’t grow humans on trees…

So how does a technical or sales co-founder find your VP of Magic? It’s not an easy task given they think very differently than you do, so just finding a common lexicon can be a challenge. Hell, you might not even know people like this, so get to work in your networking circles. You should also expect a fair amount of Mars vs. Venus moments as you move through the process – both before and after you find your marketing ‘soulmate’. But it’s a process well worth enduring. An epic vision could be the single most important success factor in your startup’s most critical moments: fundraising, product development, strategic relationships, etc. More important than even your API strategy or your cashflow.

So why don’t tech entrepreneurs think like this? I fear the answer is two-fold: tunnel vision and an absurd percentage of non-marketing mentors. It’s kinda like not knowing what you don’t know – if you surround yourself with people who agree with you and think like you, then a diverse viewpoint never fights its way in. And we all know how consuming it is to define a product vision, and then deliver something close to on-time and on-budget.

But none of the excuses matter. Either you think and live your brand from the very beginning (like before you even know what the product is) or it’s a demon you’ll be chasing forever. Look at the culture created by brands like Disney and Twitter – they inspire people beyond products and services. So the next time you’re formulating a product, ask yourself the question: Am I building a better camera, or have I unleashed another aspiring photographer into the world?

SoundsGood 09: Eminem’s ‘Recovery’

Monday, 28 June 2010 02:13 Published in Entertainment

For a guy coming of a couple of self-admitted half-ass CDs (Encore and Relapse), Eminem has chosen a vague path back to the top of the MC game. Like many artists – especially in categories like pop and rap – the first couple albums can get kinda gimmicky. ‘The Slim Shady LP’ was perhaps the best example ever of breaking in on a CD of absolute genius wrapped in a semi-goofy package. While the characters and skits almost overshadowed the talent, it was clear to most watchers there was a new powerhouse in the making.

Once he earned into the scene, his personal life tanked and just about took him with it. Between his estranged wife, a public battle with his mother and a love for all kinds of pills, his raps began to sound like his life ­– drug-fueled and lazy. So where does ‘Recovery’ end up? He’s further down the road, but he’s still whining a bit too much for my taste – especially on track six ‘Going Through Changes’. And he’s chosen to bring 4-5 different producers to assemble the CD, so there’s no real consistency across all the tracks. And if we’re really going to be honest, most of the beats are pretty run-of-the-mill.

But for my money, Eminem has such skills I can cut him a lot of slack. My top cuts on the CD are the first single ‘Not Afraid’, the Dre-produced ‘So Bad’ and ‘Space Bound’. There’s something massively compelling about Em’s complex rhymes over an 80-something BPM track – which is why his collaborations with Dr. Dre will always sound best to my ears. But in the same way the whole CD is filled with dichotomies, the acoustic intro on 'Love The Way You Lie’ featuring Rihanna cements her as the queen of rap collaboration but ‘No Love’ featuring Lil’ Wayne lacks the punch of Wayne’s tracks with Kanye and Jay-Z – and tries too hard to make Haddaway's 'What Is Love' cool again. Really?

So overall it’s great to hear new stuff from Em, but the CD left me wanting more. It felt like a bit of a missed opportunity. But damn, the kid’s got flow... Enjoy the video for 'Not Afraid' below:

That Fail Whale Ain’t Cute Anymore

Sunday, 27 June 2010 03:59 Published in Startups

Somewhere between a great idea and universal acceptance of a website, there’s a lot of scary ground to cover – and few things hurt worse than your service being dead-in-the-water. But for some reason, no one really cares when Twitter is out. Let me state upfront I’ve worked in some serious high-load web infrastructures (I was the UI and business lead for UPS Tracking, which averaged more than 22 million daily sessions in 2009), so I know running a high-volume site isn’t a walk in the park. But here’s my question: Why can’t Twitter seem to get its act together? Think of all the other bandwidth- and storage-intensive sites on the web (Facebook, Amazon, YouTube, UPS, Travelocity, etc.) and you never see them down. It all boils down to one simple answer: no one loses actual dollars when the Fail Whale rears its ugly head. The good news for Twitter is they’re not mission-critical – it’s a hobby for people. But that’s also bad news for their business. Eventually that’s going to change – and then the outages are going to have serious stings to them.

Let’s look at some rough stats. Depending who you believe, Twitter averages somewhere between 200 tweets per second (a Robert Scoble number from last month’s Twitter conference) and 750 tweets per second (the official Twitter number posted on their blog). I’d guess it’s about 500, which makes for a nice whale-less Twitter experience. But fast-forward to a huge special event, and that traffic absolutely explodes. According to Twitter, Game 7 of the NBA Finals when the Lakers beat the Celtics drove 3,085 tweets per second, and just days later the Japan-Denmark World Cup game drove 3,283 tweets per second. So clearly sporting events are a major traffic driver. But are we to believe that Twitter hasn’t done capacity planning for 5x daily traffic? Really? Anyone worth their salt has an instant-on capacity plan for at least 10x traffic.

And shouldn’t an outage matter more than it does? While Twitter is a hobby – and before they figure out a sustainable monetization strategy that no doubt is data-related – who cares if the Whale appears? I’ll give you a real-life example I’ve seen that disturbs me. I prefer SimplyTweet as my iPhone Twitter client for a couple very specific product feature reasons: @ and DM notifications, no gaps in my timeline and a super clean UI. What I hate about SimplyTweet is it works about 87.632% of the time (an approximation). The rest of the time it whines about bad gateways and API problems. But for some reason, I can jump over the official Twitter iPhone client and everything seems fine. I know managing APIs can be just as tricky (if not more) than managing site traffic, but seeing this scenario at least three times a week makes me think Twitter is throttling external apps and/or playing other kinds of API games with non-official tools.

So the real question is can Twitter survive as an independent company? Most onlookers would agree a huge part of the Google-YouTube deal was all about keeping YouTube from hitting a capacity-induced brick wall at 200 mph. And perhaps most smartly, the Google guys simply brought infrastructure muscle and left the YouTube brand to continue on its journey unscathed. With more than 24 hours of video uploaded every minute, the storage and bandwidth pressures were literally chewing up any shot at profitability. Is this the destiny of Twitter? Will it be so successful in the hearts and minds of consumers that it can’t exist by itself? Are they so good it’s going to kill them?

If there’s any chance of the answer being no, they better jump to it quickly. The deeper they get into the business aspects of the company, the more pain outages will create. Not that sponsored tweets seemed to matter to anyone, but you can bet paid advertisers aren’t going to have patience for dead impressions. And I’d contend there’s a point of consumer revolt on the horizon as well (I think of a couple journalist buddies who lose a major communications tool when Twitter goes flatline).

So here’s my theory on how Twitter can become the beast it needs to be: lock-up a strategic partnership of massive scale with Amazon before you have to approach them to buy you. Think of it this way: Amazon has a massive cloud-based infrastructure that could almost instantly alleviate Twitter’s capacity issues, and from Amazon’s perspective, they’d be one hell of a reference client for the CloudFront kids. In addition, the Zappos acquisition sets a clear precedence that Amazon can do a smart deal and leave the brand to operate independently – as Twitter would require to maintain its cult-brand status. There’s also a super-smart future play if you consider the impact Twitter could end up having on trend data for e-commerce SKUs. Imagine a world where Amazon could overlay brand mentions on Twitter with their own sales data – and be able to model future sales trajectories.

But even without an outside deal, Twitter has to make moves. Granted I have no idea how Twitter’s systems are architected (and frankly it’d be one of the best business stories ever if they built a fully scalable infrastructure from Day One), but I can’t imagine there aren’t 50 or 100 ninjas in the country that could drive their uptime percentage above 98%. My advice is stop Hollywood-ing – Time Magazine has already deemed you as cool. Focus all your money and talent on system uptime, or risk being the Milli Vanilli of the technology industry. Either give us a service that works, or that whale is going to be the death of you. Or you could just blame it on the rain…

From Fortune 500 To Open Source: One Man's Adventure

Saturday, 26 June 2010 21:49 Published in Startups

Willie Jackson is a guy who knows what it takes to succeed. After a good run in the consulting world, his latest endeavor plants him squarely in the middle of the startup/entrepreneur world. Willie shares his own personal story of bailing out of corporate America to really help small businesses and even individuals understand the power of WordPress 3.0.

Beyond just its blogging or site build strengths, Willie’s quick to point out how the platform can be used to build a personal brand as well. Why limit yourself to just a resume if you can more effectively position yourself as a topical expert who just happens to have their resume available on the site? An interesting take on finding a job in a tough market. Enjoy the video interview below:

Talkin’ Chirbit And WordPress Plug-Ins

Saturday, 26 June 2010 05:00 Published in Startups

While The Business of WordPress conference was slam full of small- to mid-sized business people and WordPress-for-hire warriors, there didn’t seem to be many hardcore back-end developers in attendance. Maybe because they’re more prone to hit something like WordCamp – but we found Ivan Reyes of Chirbit checking out the scene.

Chirbit is an Atlanta-based startup that let users record, upload and share audio clips of up to two hours long. While sharing music is a core reason for a music junkie like me to care, Ivan talks about people in his community using Chirbit to voice-blog via short audio messages. He’s recently released a WordPress plug-in, and was in search of potential users and feedback.

Chirbit is a really interesting play in a blazing hot market (music technology), so we’ll continue to keep an eye on the growth of Chirbit. Enjoy the video below:

From Nigeria With Love: MailChimp’s Poetry Spam

Friday, 25 June 2010 19:03 Published in Startups

Every once in a while, you run across a video that speaks for itself. And when you run a technology video blog like we do, you might even get to shoot a hilarious event and talk them into letting you run it. Without much more explanation, we were invited by Atlanta’s own MailChimp to attend their Poetry Slam, which is based on one beautifully simple idea: “art can be found anywhere – in the most unlikely places – even in your spam inbox.” Enjoy the video below:

An Angel Investor’s Take On WordPress 3.0

Friday, 25 June 2010 06:03 Published in Startups

If you’ve read any articles on TechDrawl this week, chances are you’ve seen Francine Hardaway’s name and bio given she was the keynote speaker at Wednesday’s The Business of WordPress conference in Atlanta. Francine holds a democratic view of WordPress 3.0 in the sense she contends virtually any business can build a professional-looking business site quickly and inexpensively. Gone are the days when a startup has to spend $50-100K of early-stage money on a website just to tell the world what they’re up to – which is a good thing for someone like her who is both an angel investor and runs a startup incubator. As she notes: “You wouldn’t spend your entire marketing budget on a Yellow Pages ad, so why would you do it on a website?”

(Watch Francine’s Keynote: Part One | Part Two | Part Three)

Enjoy the video interview below:

This morning we wrap up Francine Hardaway’s keynote address delivered at Wednesday’s The Business of WordPress conference in Atlanta. Beyond sharing a crowd-sourced list of big sites running on WordPress, Francine shares her personal experience with helping downtown Phoenix restaurants survive the construction peril of a new light rail line. Imagine being a thriving restaurant that all the sudden have your entire street and parking wiped out in one fell swoop. Those businesses either turned to online menus and ordering or risked quick extinction. And in the case of a struggling business, there’s even more advantage to using an open source platform with a low cost of ownership.

(Watch: Part One | Part Two)

Enjoy the final video below:

After attending a successful The Business of WordPress conference yesterday at GTRI’s always-stellar conference facility, it’s clear the new version of the platform is continuing the momentum from 2009 and the first half of 2010. With a room full of small- to medium-sized business people looking to improve their site strategy and functionality, I was struck by the number of professional folks who aren’t web developers but are up to their eyeballs in WordPress. And not in the traditional blogging sense – they're tackling increasingly complex corporate web sites that do things like show real estate listings and solicit donations on behalf on non-profits. It’s all based on ease-of-use and the community that has built around WordPress.

We grabbed conference organizer Mike Schinkel to get his thoughts on the program, the attendees and what he’s been up to in the WordPress world. He’s forming an interesting strategy on plug-in development that we’ll continue to keep an eye on over the next 3-6 months. In the meantime, enjoy the video below:

Page 10 of 19