Random Thoughts

Tech, words and musings from an Englishman in Seattle

Early Stage Investment Forum

A few weeks ago I joined the Northwest Entrepreneur Network, and so far the membership has been worth every penny.

Last week I attended their breakfast seminar “The Essentials of VC Financing for Emerging-Growth Companies” at the offices of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati high up in the Columbia Center.

The seminar was incredibly useful, and it certainly filled in a few gaps in my understanding of VC financing. Michelle Goldberg's talk on “Financing Strategies” provided a great insight into startup financing from the VC's point of few. Even though I follow the blogs of a large number of VCs, it was very useful to be able to hear the information directly and ask questions.

Anyhow, what about this Investment Forum?

As I write this, I'm sat in the Bell Harbor Convention Center in Seattle (the same convention center at which Gnomedex is taking place), waiting for the start of NWEN's seminar that promises to reveal the secrets of the Early Stage Investment Forum (EFIS) at the end of April.

NWEN describes ESIF as “The Source for What's Next”:

The seed of an idea and the skill of a start-up team. Add one perfect pitch, provide them with early-stage capital, then stand back and watch them grow.

That's that premise - and the promise - of the Northwest Entrepreneur Network's seventh annual Early-Stage Investment Forum (ESIF): to showcase the fresh ideas of an exceptional set of high-energy entrepreneurs for an audience of West Coast angel and venture capital investors.

…see 15 to 18 high-potential seed -- and early-stage companies --all in one buzz-filled day. These newest ventures in software, communications, e-commerce, retail, medical technology, or service are continuing the tradition of innovation that has put the Northwest on the world map. These are companies that deserve the spotlight - and truly are “the source for what's next.”

Sounds a bit like DEMO.

Anyhow, this evening's event promises to show us “how to do ESIF right.”

This seminar will provide an introduction to the Early-Stage Investment Forum (ESIF), which will be hosted by the Northwest Entrepreneur Network in April. We are featuring a panel of previous ESIF winners, all of whom are seasoned entrepreneurs. This is a rare opportunity to get an inside perspective on how to prepare yourself, how to pitch your idea, and how to make the contacts you will need to be a successful entrepreneur.

Looking around, there appears to be about one hundred people here - the entrepreneurial spirit is healthy here in Seattle…

Anyhow, the seminar is starting…

…and now it's over.

Good stuff that is relevant to any forum of this type, but a key thing that the panelists raised time and time again is the value of the coaching that the conference provides for the selected companies. They provide five or six highly skilled coaches that will help you hone your presentation and business plans.

Also, this year for the first time representatives of various other forums (such as the Alliance of Angels) will be present.

Overall, the panelists really valued their previous participation at ESIF.

I have a bunch of other notes - email me if you'd like a copy (it's a MindMap, but I can export to some other format if you'd like - just let me know).

And if you're an early stage investor looking for a software studio with some cool ideas, please drop me a line

The Boy Gets Everywhere

I caught the clone meme last week, and having been wanting to try it out ever since.

Well, today was the day. I grabbed the tripod and camera and ordered Julian around, getting him to stand in different locations throughout the room.

Oddly, he actually did as he was asked.

Julian cloned

The technique I used is basically the same one as described over here.

First I took a picture without Julian in it, and then took a bunch of other pictures with him in various locations.

I then stacked them up in layers in photoshop, with the layers where Julian was closest at the top of the stack.

Then for each layer I created a selection around Julian and generated a mask for the layer based on the selection, followed up my hand touching-up the mask to get the blend as invisible as possible.

The big things to make sure you mask right are the shadows and reflections (notice Julian's reflection in the television).

Anyhow, you get the idea. 'Twas fun.

An SEO Experiment

Although I'm the #1 “Steve Lacey” on the popular search sites, as far as “Stephen Lacey” goes, in rate a #8 on the front page of Google, and I'm nowhere with the others.

Stephen is my real first name, and my mother hates it when I sign a birthday/christmas/etc… card as “Steve”.

I learnt that the hard way about twenty-five years ago.

Also, I use “Stephen” in any pseudo-legal, registration for conferences, etc… context. So it would be good if people who searched for me, well, found me.

Anyhow, in experiment number one, I've just added “Stephen Lacey” to the meta keywords. Lets see what effect that has. Yes I know I could employ the full SEO techniques, but I thought I'd see what actually works.

That means taking it one step at a time.

Btw, don't you think that the search engines would consider “Steve”, “Steven” and “Stephen” as synonyms? Even if they gave greater weighting to exact matches, treating them as completely seperate semantic entities seems odd.

Whoops!

Goal number one has got to be “don't screw up in your own field”.

CHICAGO - H&R Block, which provides tax advice to millions of Americans, made an embarrassing confession on Thursday. It goofed on its own taxes.

Read more…

Whoops!

[Thanks to Kevin Schofield for the link.]

I want a new suit

In particular, I want a suit made by this gentleman.

Call this a weird (or maybe English) desire for a software developer that wears a suit probably bi-annually at best, but I actually do like wearing them - I can see a point in the near future where I may need to wear one a little bit more often than that.

And that's the point.

A decent suit is timeless and Tomas Mahon is obviously a fine craftsman and anything he makes will probably outlast me and still be in style.

So with a birthday coming up, I'd like one of these and a few of these, please.

Thanks.

SwitchGear has a logo

Finally, our startup SwitchGear Software has a logo!

SwitchGear

What do you think?

It was created by the fine folks over at LogoWorks. The process was simple and fast, with iteration performed completely online.

Next up, business cards…

Oh, we need an office address first…

Flagged Articles #9

Here's my list of some “interesting” articles for the week ending February 18th, 2006:

It looks like it was a slow week - actually, it looks like I'm spending more time in emacs than in FeedDemon. This is a good thing :-)

As always, not necessarily the most interesting stuff this week, but I flagged them for some reason…

The full feed is over on del.icio.us.

A Freakonomics experiment in the making

In their book Freakonomics, the authors relate a study that looked into charging parents a fine for turning up late to pick up their children.

Some economists ran a study at a number of day-care centers, first by keeping track of the number of late pickups for a ten week period before the fine was introduced and then again afterwards.

The results? The number of late pickups increased after the fine was introduced.

The authors claim (which seems reasonable to me) is that the moral incentive for picking up the children on time (“the poor teachers will have to stay late”) was replaced by an economic incentive (“I'm effectively paying for baby-sitting”).

It's easy to replace a moral issue with an economic one if the price is right.

Maybe the fine was too low, but making it too high could be punishing to any goodwill garnered by the day-care center.

“I was stuck in traffic, sorry for being five minutes late.”

“Sorry Mr. Dad, but that'll be $100.”

Why do I bring this up now? Well, in this week's email missive from Julian's day-care center, they informed us that from March 1st they'll be introducing fines for late pickups.

It's not enough that the day-care center treats the parents like children, but now they're making a potentially bad goodwill mistake.

They don't even say how much the fine will be. How's that for being customer focused?

I'm of two minds whether to send them a copy of the Freakanomics section. It might be interesting to see whether they treat it as a cautionary tale or as an affront to their day-care managing expertise.

More to the point, if I asked them, would they collect and pass on the data about the change in late pickup numbers as a Freakonomics experiment?

Game Development in the late eighties

YouTube has an interesting video of a BBC TV program that dates back to the late 1980s.

The program follows two UK game developers, Imagine and Ocean, as they get ready to put out titles in time for the holiday period.

One one hand it's amusing to see the silly hairstyles and clothes, but on the other hand it's interesting to see the parallels that still exist in the business of game development.

Watch Commercial Breaks: Imagine & Ocean Games.

[Thanks to Alice for the link.]

Top Quote #3

Why do they all appear to come from VC's? This time it's from Brad Feld

…the value is in creating the thing, not simply having the idea…

A truer thing, etc…

Office Space

This afternoon Joe and I spent quite a considerable amount of time with a real estate agent looking at offices in the Redmond/Bellevue area.

It's been an interesting process figuring out the amount of space we need, the price we're willing to pay for it, and honing in on the sort of location.

I.e. we don't want to spend much, but we really don't want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere in some nondescript space.

I know that it shouldn't matter, but I believe that the location of the space and the local facilities (i.e. somewhere to buy coffee; grab a sandwich) should be within a short walking distance.

I think that's worth a little extra cash.

Anyhow, along the way we've also been picking up on the realities of commercial office space - the difference between full-service and how triple net space (NNN) can screw you up when that $15 per square foot space suddenly doesn't look so affordable anymore.

So it's looking like somewhere in the $20 range is looking favourite right now. We saw a very nice space in Redmond, very close to everything and with enough space to accommodate a few extra people.

As long as we can knock down a wall or two :-)

Speaking of which, the current online search space for offices really sucks. The only thing that comes close is OfficeSpace.com, and even that is not particularly useful.

Sounds like a really good opportunity for some Web 2.0 startup out there…

Flagged Articles #8

I've seriously fallen behind on this little “flagged” project of mine - it's been a month since the last update.

Ho hum, let's just ignore the first three weeks of that lapse and proceed to my list of some “interesting” articles for the week ending February 11th, 2006 (plus a few select ones missed earlier):

I need to automate this process…

As always, not necessarily the most interesting stuff this week, but I flagged them for some reason…

The full feed is over on del.icio.us, so if you're really curious, you can see the missing three weeks there.

HDR Photography

Those of you in the game development community are aware of the big push towards high dynamic range (HDR) lighting that attempts to capture the full range of lighting behaviour rather than limiting ourselves to a low eight bit range.

At least during frame generation anyhow.

What you might not be aware of is the push towards using HDR in the digital photography space.

Typically, an image will be captured multiple times at multiple exposure settings and these images are blended - pulling out the highlights from the low exposures and the shadows from the high exposures. Photoshop CS2 has the capabilities to do this.

Other applications such as Photomatix add tone mapping - a process familiar to most graphics developers out there.

Anyhow, via Boing Boing I discovered a Flickr group dedicated to HDR photography. The results are outstanding.

HDR Image

I'd been meaning to try this for a while, so here's another nudge. Added to the todo list…

Hair

This is the most laugh-out-loud funny piece of writing that I have read in a very long time. I literally had tears streaming down my face as I read it. Hopefully it will lighten your Monday morning.

People of a sensitive disposition or who hate potty humour should avoid following the link, but it is the most well written piece of toilet humour I have heard or read in a while.

Read about why you should not shave the hair on your bottom at your own peril.

Was that enough disclaimers?

[Thanks to Tom Reynolds for the link.]

Seattle Sun

Today is one of those wonderful Seattle winter days, where it's sunny and not too cold. Not too warm either.

The air is still but clear, and the view of Lake Washington and the Olympics from the deck is truly astounding.

After breakfast, Julian and I went for a walk down to the local park with him marvelling at every little thing that most of us ignore as everyday things. At 2.5 years old, I'm pretty surprised by his level of vocabulary, reasoning and inquisitiveness.

But then every parent probably says the same things.

“What's this called daddy?”. A pebble.

“This?”. Moss.

“How about this?”. Dog poop.

Ahh well, you can't win them all.

G'Day World!

Yesterday evening I had the distinct pleasure of being the guest host on The Podcast Network's G'Day World with Cameron Reilly. It was a blast.

We chatted about a bunch of stuff including the new venture, Flight Simulator, movies, tech news and interesting aussie phrases…

G'Day World is probably the longest running subscription I have in my podcatcher, and it was very cool to finally be a part of it - I'd love to do it again if Cam will have me :-)

Check it out and download it over on TPN…

SwitchGear Software

Finally we have a name for the company and a destination for anyone that will try and hit the website.

SwitchGear Software.

Our place on the web is over at http://www.switchgearsoftware.com. There's not much there, but at least you can sign up for information when we're ready to go public.

Speaking of which - the phrase “stealth startup” has been bandied around a lot recently like it's a bad thing. I don't believe there's anything intrinsically wrong with the practice: we're a new company; we have a name so we need a website with contact information; we're not ready to discuss what we're up to.

Sounds like a good practice to me…

Anyhow, it's cool to finally have an identity (a logo is in the works), and we're busy planning, coding and looking for office space - anyone know any reasonably priced space in downtown Kirkland or Redmond? :-)

FlightSim's effect on the happy home

I just had to pass this one on:

My husband is into the whole Microsoft Flight Simulator world, which is apparently a rather large world with organizations and ranks and events and training and barbecue suppers and satanic rituals and what have you.

Read the rest of this amusing post over on Mel's Diner. And don't skip the comments!

Top Quote #2

Interestingly, the second in my new “Top Quotes” series also comes from Guy Kawasaki

The best way to deal with lawyers is to simply say to them: “This is what I want to do. Now keep us out of jail as we do it.”

Sweet.

[Found in The Art of Partnering.]

Day Two Begins…

So the first day of the big new adventure is over and the second day begins.

Yesterday was mostly spent getting my main development PC up to date with tools, compilers, etc… rebuilding a laptop installation with the same and generally cleaning up a lot of loose ends.

Those of you that know me might know that I'm a big fan and proponent of the Getting Things Done workflow management system. Well, as with most people, I fell off the GTD band wagon somewhat with the upheaval over the past couple of weeks. Yesterday a lot of time was spent on a full review of my actions, results and projects, both digitally and physically.

My physical filing area is now clean and up-to-date and all inbox items and open loops are fully captured.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, head over to David Allen's site and pick up his book, or search online for “GTD”.

As far as software goes for the GTD stuff, I use MindJet's MindManager in conjunction with Gyronix's ResultsManager plugin. Together they rock.

Anyhow, enough of that. I'm heading over to Joe's place for some brainstorming and planning.

Demo to global buzz in 24 hours

A bunch of people have asked me how we are planning on launching, getting buzz, doing PR, marketing, etc… when we're ready to tell the world what we're up to.

After all, I'm not a PR expert and they don't come cheap - what are we going to do?

Well, Don Dodge captures my standard response in the most perfect way.

I'm may not be a PR guy, but I do have a blog and I'm not afraid to use it. Oh, and knowing that Scoble and a few other guys might read my email should help too. I hope :-)

Don Dodge: The new way to launch your product or company.

Gnomedex issues press release

I've been meaning to post about this all week, but somehow never got around to it.

Anyhow Chris posted the best press release I've seen in a very long time:

Tech Conference Refuses to Issue Press Release

Seattle, WA (PRWEB) February 1, 2006 -- For the first time in recorded history, a leading technology conference decides to forego the issuing of a press release to drum up support and interest. Gnomedex is heading into its sixth year of bringing together technologists, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, venture capitalists, and other random buzzwords.

Read the full release on PRWeb.

SteveLa is no more

And so an era ends.

As of 5pm this evening, stevela@microsoft.com is no more. Well, I'm not sure exactly when I get locked out, but today was my last day at Microsoft.

Even though I'm incredibly excited to be building a startup from scratch and moving on to the next phase in my life and career, the past two weeks since I announced my departure have been filled with a wild mix of emotions.

To paraphrase Guy Kawasaki in The Art of the Start, I'd be crazy to not be a little scared about what is to come, and there is definitely some of that mixed in with the excitement.

But also I'm a little sad to be leaving behind a great team at a great company.

Microsoft has been good to me.

And with that I shall dwell no more.

Onward!

© 2001 to present, Steve Lacey.