Demo Camp 4 Roundup: A Treatise from Jerry

I’ve been bugging my friend, and highly esteemed business associate, Jerry King to get a blog for about a year now.  While he has not quite managed to get the blog part done yet, he recently managed to post this treatise on DemoCamp4 this past Tuesday in Toronto:

Would it kill software developers to mention commercial terms? Are business models the new Kryptonite?

Last Tuesday evening was my first Toronto BarCamp, so as a newbie, I am still learning the rules. I recognize that my work as a management consultant biases me, yet even if that were set aside and I reverted solely to being a recovering electrical engineer, I was dumbfounded at the percentage of presenters whose software applications lacked a business model.
Why so many?

Mind you, I was not expecting a 4” 3-ring binder, crammed with a detailed market entry strategy to accompany each 8 minute presentation, but was it too much to expect that a developer who’s been labouring nightly for 3 months to develop an application, to offer a few comments on the potential commercial appeal of said application to his or her audience? Surely the thought must have crossed the mind while consuming cases of Red Bull.

Is it that BarCamp attendees disdain commerce or believe that being mindful of commercial terms as one explores one’s pet projects somehow dulls the creative edge? Or is it that attendees acknowledge its importance, but believe that they can neatly slot a successful business model into place AFTER their software application is built?

Don’t get me wrong, serendipity has a role. There is something to be said for unfettered, undirected research-for-research-sake. Over the past five decades, a number of useful things including the transistor, the laser, the mouse & graphical interface, etc. have emerged as inventions which found commercial application well after their creation.

But the famed labs which produced those inventions in the 1950s, 60s, 70s–the Bell Labs, the Westinghouses, the Xerox Parcs, with their massive budgets and their ability to undertake pure research, of academic quality, on an industrial scale—seem to have either disappeared or been radically downsized and/or become increasingly applied in their outlook. Research today, undertaken by their offspring, the Intels, the Microsofts, the Googles of the world, tends to be more applied–think small “r” and really BIG “D”. Maybe there is a reason for this trend.

Here are two propositions. The first is that Tuesday evening’s presenters at BarCamp reflect a breadth of fresh air, the ushering in of a more democratic and a more cost effective way (e.g. Open Source) to explore their pet projects. And in exploring their pet projects, the presenters self-actualize and that’s good enough for society at large.

The second proposition is that the presenters were symptomatic of something more troubling–a Canadian tertiary educational system which, with the noticeable exception of the U. of Waterloo, continues to pump “technologists” into the workforce. Technically competent, these technologists arrive with undisciplined minds and largely unskilled at the process of converting ideas into world-beating products, or raising money, or mediating customer needs, etc. Deliberately oversimplifying, this second proposition would see Canadian universities teeming with absent-minded, pipe-smoking, tweed-jacket-wearing Ivy Tower professors as opposed to the PhD-entrepreneur, Porsche 911-driving professor heroes that populate the campuses of MIT, Stanford, and Carnegie Mellon.

Here is why we should all care about which one of the propositions rings most true.

At a micro level, what are BarCamp organizers and attendees to do and think when future presenters show up with yet another photo-sharing Web application or yet another search engine application that is, at best, only marginally better than the incumbent? Time—no—more accurately, attention, is a commodity and an increasingly scarce one at that. As BarCamp becomes more popular, there will be an ever-growing number of attendees and demonstrators. Inevitably, there will arise a need to ration demo space, to manage the “draw” on our collective attention. Commercial success—in the eyes of the BarCamp organizer and presenters—might be a useful, practical criterion, one among others, that could be used to organize future BarCamp.

Staying at the micro level, my mind thinks back to the second presenter on Tuesday evening night, a digital camera hack from Disposable Digital Cameras, that claimed no discernible business model.

No business model?
Consider the following:
1. There are new populations, tens of millions strong in the emerging markets of coastal China, India, Brazil and South Africa, that are coming on-stream as their disposable income levels rise (Google C.K. Prahalad “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”).

2. That for digital goods, the Web is the perfect platform for agglomerating geographically dispersed market segments–the proverbial ‘Long Tail’.

3. Bollywood (India’s film industry centered in Mumbai, formerly Bombay) already churns out more movies annually than Hollywood. Nigeria, yep Nigeria, also has a thriving film industry.
Now think about the disruptive effect that radically bringing down the price of digital movie making will have in India and Nigeria. OK, now let’s add in the heretofore excluded consumers in emerging markets such as Brazil and South Africa.

As I understand the presentation by Disposable Digital Cameras, cheap disposable cameras—hardware—plus their software = really cheap movie making. Sounds like a disruptive way of entering an uncontested market—selling to folks who are currently non-consumers. Clayton Christensen will be pleased.

But have we seen this movie (no pun intended) before? If we chat with Canadians over 70 years old, they’ll tell us that Japanese goods in the 1950s and 1960s were distinctly down market, synonymous with schlock. Akito Morita’s Sony, Toyota, Honda and other manufacturers systematically penetrated North American consumer markets (e.g. radios, televisions, autos, motorcycles), at the low end, took away market share and then moved up-market, leveraging scale economies, improving quality and raising prices.

Can Disposable Digital Cameras find a company, somewhere in the world, to manufacture under contract a cheap disposable camera? You bet! Across China today there are probably 100 entrepreneurs with the acquisitive mindset of an Akito Morita, circa de 1955, AND under utilized contract manufacturing capacity at their disposal AND cheap engineering talent on tap AND a bottomless supply of labour capable of doing the most minute, the most intricate, manual tasks. These folks are lean and hungry and accustomed to staying up nights figuring out how they can further assault global markets with their goods. Say Disposable Digital Cameras were to marry low-cost Chinese manufacturing prowess with a Tucows-like distribution model for the actual delivery of their hack application, and then take rifle aim at the emerging markets in Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa. I believe Disposable Digital Cameras will have a recipe for some serious coin—er, make that yuans, rupees, and rubles, etc. Please, tell me again with a straight face that there’s no business model to this hack!

Finally, we should care about which proposition rings most true because at a macro level, entrepreneurship remains heavily vocational, complete with a disturbingly high failure rate, but it remains essential to Canada’s productivity levels and our standard of living. Many know that 80% start-ups less than 5 years old fail. However, what’s less well known is that most new ideas also fail. According to The Economist, March 9, 2006 of 1,091 Canadian inventions surveyed in 2003 by Thomas Astebro of the University of Toronto, only 75 reached the market. Six of these earned returns above 1,400%, but 45 lost money. If you combine the two, i.e. the prospects for new products put out by new companies, they are harrowing. Indeed, you’re operating at the riskiest part of the economy. If we as Canadians are serious about narrowing the growing productivity gap with the U.S., then we need to improve both the quantity and quality of entrepreneurs that we generate. We need to produce more folks who are comfortable innovating in a commercial environment. BarCamp is a great place to start. After all, we can’t depend solely on our tech giants—case in point, CGI announced yesterday that they’ll be cutting 1,000 jobs in 2006.

By regularly encouraging our best technological talent, at an early age to be mindful of the commercial appeal of their applications, the discipline of that way of thinking will imprint and we will gradually raise the bar. Look at it this way, if the folks presenting at MaRS on Tuesday evening can’t speak intelligently about the commercial aspects of their very own ideas, who can? From where will Canada’s next generation of startups emerge? There is a lot to be said for exposing 3rd and 4th year engineering and computer science students to an introductory marketing course, if only so that they can learn how to recognize and structure a problem. Listen to the interdisciplinary seminars Stanford puts on for their engineering and business students

(http://edcorner.stanford.edu/podcasting.shtml ).

NOTE: I totally pilfered this from Osh comments  (thanks Osh).  Be sure to check out Osh’s blog at http://www.myownpirateradio.com/.

Finally, a closing remark from me…DemoCamp is out of control.  150 people showed up…it’s like a grassroots woodstock er something…David it’s your baby – nice work.

Podcast Interview by Eric Mattson

Wow.

Just got off the phone with Eric Mattson. He interviewed me in a half-hour podcast that I mentioned 10 days ago. 

The call was fun.  He is a cool guy and I’m totally jazzed.  I especially enjoyed the after call when we ended the podcast, but continued a more personal note.  Eric has lots to say himself.  To me, what he had to say was more interesting than my droning on <grin>.  We had a conversation about Eric’s definition of our ever flattening world…where it’s not so much the outsourcing of the work that makes the world flat, but the fact that those who are accessible to anyone, anywhere at anytime – whether the ask comes from high up in the media, or from a blogger – will be the winners.

Eric uses Skype to do his calls and unfortunately Skype cut out half way though our conversation and then the reloaded call’s file was corrupted.  So the podcast is missing some interesting aspects.  For example, we started to talk about Stories for Blogs which has a community and humanitarian aspect that I am very excited about and which is larger than any one business or person.  That said, Eric was kind enough to link to it and I will be sure to ping him once the site is actually up.

Anyway….totally fun! Eric is a pioneer on the frontier of pod casting and media 2.0 (if I can call it that) and it was a treat to spend time with him “on the range” exploring.

Here is Eric’s post about the podcast

Download the podcast

Here is a basic program of what we talked about:

-> Intro
-> My bio
-> About BrandMurder.com
-> Why we are doing BrandMurder.com
-> What is Web 2.0 in Mike’s eyes?
-> Synopsis of Brand Murder & mention of the upcoming BrandMurder.com case study
-> The making BrandMurder.com
-> Mesh Conference: the story
-> …call cuts out around here…

Toronto Web 2.0 Conference Website is Up

Okay….I know it’s about a week and half after we said it would be ready, but we had to change our venue and our dates , and now that that is all done, we’re ready to roll:

http://www.meshconference.com/

Here’s the link to Stuart’s welcome post.

Mark Evans, Stuart MacDonald, Rob Hyndman, Mathew Ingram and I are all really excited. Check out the speakers (Om Malik , Jason Fried, Tara Hunt, Steve Rubel and Paul Kedrosky name a few!), they are amazing, and that list does not include the stars we’ll be telling you about in the coming weeks.

Two things to know:

1) THE SCHEDULE is not yet posted, but the content is going to be excellent.  Just look at the speakers again and you’ll know that is true.  We’ll have more schedule info up in the next week or two.
 
2) BEING THERE: some people found the site before we released it (funny…!).  Believe it or not we actually had sales before we officially released the site (i.e. you are reading the official release).  People are coming from Cleveland and Ottawa and other non-Toronto locations.  So my two cents is, register ASAP if you want to come.  The event is only seven weeks away, but its looking like the tickets won’t last that long.  That said, please give us a hand a blog about this thing or send an email to anyone you think might be interested.  Thanks.

Hope to see you there!

How to Write Comments for Blogs

I just wrote two comments on Scoble’s blog.  Having done that, I realized what a poor comment writer I am.

Writing comments SHOULD BE a personal connection.  It’s different than writing a post because a post is one-to-many whereas a comment OUGHT to be one-to-one, but publicly available.

To make it more personal, HERE IS MY TIP:  start your comment with the “NAME:” of the person who writes the blog.  For example, if you are commenting to me on this blog, start it with “Mike: blah blah blah” It helps with establishing that personal connection. 

Here is another take on that personal connection that makes comments “real”.

Marlon Brando used to worry about this “one to one” connection on set.  Marlon liked to talk to the crew between takes.  While talking to a camera person Brando would, say “start rolling film”.  He would continue his conversation…while the camera rolled. 

Why?  The conversation was real, authentic, not acted. 

Part way through the conversation with the camera person he would break into the dialog and the character of the scene.  He used the conversation with the camera crew as a touch stone…to know where “real” was.

This injection of personal interest was inspired by this.

2ndSite Featured in Backbone Magazine

Pretty exciting, 2ndSite and our client ResortAC were featured today in Backbone Magazine.  Backbone’s online presence is still coming along, but their magazine has national distribution and it’s an insert in Canada’s most widely circulated newspaper (read by millions of readers) the Globe and Mail .

Troy (our client) is a classic 2ndSite user.  He has tried QuickBooks, Simply Accounting and two of three other accounting software packages.  Finally he found 2ndSite.  He switched and he is loving it.

Here is the article.

Stories for Blogs

Just read Scoble’s post about being overwhelmed by the blog slog. He mentions stories towards the end and how the human interest aspect of blogging is getting muscled aside by the relentless grind of blogging about everything that is going on every second in the blogosphere. [Note: that grind would make good fodder for the Web 2.0 Toronto conference this May...I'll pass it on]. Anyhow, here is the deal. Robert mentioned a contest for stories and I’m going to make it happen. I just bought the URL:

http://www.storiesforblogs.com/

I’m going to run with that domain for now, and get a barebones message up on that site in the next 24 hours or so. It will outline some mechanism for submitting stories…guidelines for what kind of stories we are looking for…some timelines…make a call for panelist judges…

That’s enought for now. Please give me a hand and spread the word…