Monday, December 17, 2012

a buzzing #MIN45

Festive Boston Globe
The Hive at the Boston Globe was buzzing last Wednesday night. Who could resist that pun? Not me. Seriously though, #MIN45 was one of the busiest Mass Innovation Nights I've been to. The place was packed and there was tremendous energy.

Best Hat!
The bee theme was everywhere, with jars of honey and a guy from The Hive in a beekeeper outfit welcoming us at the check-in desk. I immediately awarded him Best Hat of #MIN45, figuring nobody could top that.

The Crowd

So many products to see, so many people to meet! The food and demo tables were already busy non-stop by about 6:15. Conversation and networking was so fast and furious that getting people upstairs to hear the presentations on the dot of 7:00PM was challenging. The four chosen presenters were MariwearProfitBricks, Landing Page Builder, and SnapHop. All were excellent choices.

The women from Mariwear have a brilliant product: a top comfortable enough to lounge and sleep in but with enough shape and support so you still look dressed.  A team of models changed into their Mariwear tops for the presentation. Going bra-less never looked so good!

The one photo opp I missed was  the bra-less Mariwear models with the guys from ProfitBricks in T-shirts personifying Performance, Flexibility, and Price all lined up in the bra-free zone at the front of the presentation room. Oh well.

Showing Off Carbonite Labs' T-Shirt
What with the bee-keeper suit, the Mariwear models, the ProfitBricks t-shirts, and the Carbonite t-shirts, I had a hard time choosing Best Costume. Since I already declared the beekeeper Best Hat, I think I have to give Best Costume to Mariwear.

The Crowd with Smartphones Ready to Tweet
Landing Page Builder presented a genuinely  intuitive approach to custom landing pages for small businesses.  You don't have to be a designer or hire a designer to create a landing page with embedded forms and videos and other design elements. And it's completely web-based.

Landing Page Builder
I enjoyed tasting a peanut butter cup from Unreal Candy -- great taste without all the junk that goes into most treats.

One of the coolest things I saw was Tote-a-Tree, a reusable and easy to carry Christmas tree disposal and carry bag, very relevant at this time of year. Nifty to be able to move that big tree into and out of your house without dislodging needles and getting pine sap all over.

tote a tree
The folks from Carbonite added to the fun with a photo booth. This brought out people's playful side, with folks posing in all sorts of amusing combinations.


One of the secrets to networking:  knowing how to talk about football. Water Cooler Football offers workshops on networking and on how to use gridiron language to connect in the current competitive economy. They were also handing out a useful card diagramming how to work a room at a networking event.

Watercooler Football
One of the best things about Mass Innovation Nights is that you are almost guaranteed to encounter something you've never thought of. The DogsAtWork Canine Underwater Treadmill from Trailblazers Aquatic was one of those for me. Genius idea for dog rehab.

Talking About DogsAtWork Canine Underwater Treadmill
Jewelry is another category that shows up regularly at Mass Innovation Nights and #MIN45 was no exception with cute charms from Samantha Faye.

Go Pro Workouts showcased revolutionary workout programs at their demo table.

In the analytics realm, we had 42 Stats from Servalytics serving up a SaaS solution to integrate employee feedback with enterprise data.

The biggest hit of the presentations was definitely RecruitingHop from our SnapHop friends. The consensus of the crowd was that it's downright shocking in this day and age that you can't easily apply for a job from a mobile device. Think about it. Shouldn't you be able to apply for a job at Apple with your iPhone? RecruitingHop fixes that. Adam applied for a job from his phone live during the presentation. The crowd was impressed.
Recruiting Hop
After the presentations, the demo tables were crowded once again. Everywhere you looked, small groups of people engaged in intense conversation. The energy was still so strong that some people were actually running from demo to demo.

Still Buzzing After the Presentations
The Experts Corner was indeed full of experts offering their expertise to the entrepreneurs. So, as has become traditional, I'll close with an "Expert Looking Expert" pic.

Expert Looking Expert

Saturday, November 17, 2012

fun, fortunes, and big news at #MIN 44

View of Boston from 10th Floor

With everything from hailing a taxi cab to telling your fortune on the agenda, a Big News announcement, and a cool venue high above Kendall Square, #MIN44 set the bar high. Once again an innovative good time was had by all. Diversity of products and people, great views of Boston across the river, and fun hosts established a great vibe from the start.

Darth Potato Head
VMWare proved gracious hosts with free food, beverages, and Star Wars themed Mr. Potato Head toys decorating the lobby. The Experts were set up in conference rooms along the outer wall -- more of an Experts Row than an Experts Corner. The demo tables occupied hallways surrounding the main presentation area.
This month's presenters were:
  • Prospective Plus -- a Common Job Application for recruiting entry level employees. Developed by a Northeastern student entrepreneur, it's similar to the Common App used for college admissions.
  • SmartBooks -- your Virtual Finance Department. Bookkeeping and finance services in the cloud for startups and small businesses. 
  • Hailo -- a free smartphone app that lets you  hail a safe and reliable Boston cab from wherever you are.
  • Justellus -- replaces all those customer surveys with a cool way to submit feedback to companies in seconds, earn rewards, and support great causes.
  • USpin -- a way to find, plan, and reserve awesome activities for your diverse group of friends.
Yes, you counted right, there were five. All of them were good. Hailo had an impressive video. Prospective Plus represented well for Northeastern (alma mater of one of my girl scientist nieces :-)) and had great energy
I had even more fun that usual checking out the demo tables because the placement of Jibunu next to Tell a Fortune tickled my geeky sense of humor. Jibunu answers questions using custom data collection and analysis. Tell a Fortune answers questions using a card reading/astrological app. Both invited me to ask questions. I figured "what is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything" was too easy so I tried to formulate a question about the future of technical communication. I got a good laugh from the Jibunu representative and a prediction about my strength and determination from the fortune telling app.

Both enjoyed posing for photos. Oh by the way, 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything for the 2 or 3 readers unfamiliar with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  And while we're on big data and predicting the future, how is it that not one big data startup has named themselves Seldon Foundation? OK, enough geekery for now. :-)

Fortune Telling
Justellus has the answer for getting feedback from "fans to brands". No navigating company web sites to find out how to give feedback, no endless surveys (if certain brands survey me one more time, they're going to lose me), no sitting on hold to talk to an offshore call center, just enter your feedback and it goes to the brand's employee who is encouraged to listen or to take action. It's that easy. 

Living out here off the edge of the universe, I don't often have to hail cabs in Boston. If I did, I would definitely want Hailo on my smartphone. No flailing around in the rain trying to catch the driver's attention, no futzing around with payment, no worries. Just; two taps on your smartphone and pay by card, with no charges above the meter. That's it. Team Hailo had the best matching T-shirts so I awarded them Best Costume of MIN44.

Best Costume
SmartBooks had the greatest number of clouds on their slides. Their virtual bookkeeping and accounting services leverage cloud technology and integration with QuickBooks to make it easy for startups and small businesses to access their information and reports from any computer anytime and submit expenses and pay bills from their mobile phones. It's like having a finance department in your pocket.


Best Hat of MIN44 goes to Osmium Apparel. They were there to launch the Mobius Belt, which is very cool -- the buckle is separate from the belt, very customizable. As cool as the belt was, I found I had to try on a hat. Mark from Osmium assured me I looked very Left Bank-- just like in my high school fantasy of hanging out at Les Deux Magots with Simone deBeauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Best Hat
BRIGHTdriver, creator of  interactive audio games, had the best table location right next to the door of the presentation area. They describe the intent of their product as a way for drivers to be able use their smartphone to have all the fun of social gaming without the dangers of texting. Personally, I think I would find audio gaming distracting too.
Yes, there was indeed big news.

Big News
Big News: Mass Innovation Nights has a new sponsor, American Airlines. This is an awesome partnership. Paul from American described the awesome MIN perks: All exhibtors can participate, 5000 Business ExtrAA points for the first place winner, and 2000 Business ExtrAA points for the next three. So all four presenters end up with some air travel -- very useful for startups.

Paul from American Airlines
I had some great conversations with folks in the Experts Corner -- or Experts Row -- about what people are looking for when they come to Mass Innovation Nights, how to tap into innovative ideas, and a little about what current innovators might be able to learn from those of us who were working at startups when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Is that a potato masher in his hand?

The crowd was an excellent mix of regulars and newcomers and I saw lots of connections being made. That's what people come to MIN for -- connection.

As is traditional, I'll close with an Expert looking expert, in this case Mike the Sharepoint expert doing his best "expert look" and kind of reminiscent of NBC's Chuck Todd on election night.

Expert Looking Expert
(Updated to correct the number of Business ExtrAA points for the 3 runners up)

Friday, October 12, 2012

MIN43 @ Verizon Innovation Center

Great Big Beautiful Space
Wow! The Verizon Innovation Center hosted Mass Innovation Nights in a beautifully designed space full of cool toys and innovations. Plus, they provided food! Great hosts.

Innovators Mingling (Yes, that guy is wearing a giant book bag.)
As always, the range of products at MIN was amazing. Everything from underwater robots to speaking out against domestic violence made the evening diverse and intensely interesting. It's not everyday you meet a guy wearing a giant book bag or a company with a cardboard mascot named Dominic.

Raising a Reader
The guy wearing the red book bag was from Raising A Reader promoting their Red Bag Program. The Red Bag Program circulates bright red bags filled with high quality, culturally appropriate children’s books through families’ homes so that children get to experience the culture of reading with their families. I can't think of a better way to show appreciation for the reading life than to help support bringing that life to kids who would otherwise miss out.

Market Me Suite
MarketMeSuite gives small businesses the ability to manage their social marketing just like they mange their email inbox. It's about time somebody made it easier for small businesses to take advantage of the huge variety of social media.

OK, I have to admit my favorite of the presenters was Aquabotix. For years I've fantasized about building a remote controlled underwater vehicle with a camera so I could study the underwater feeding habits of diving ducks. HydroView is that underwater vehicle with an HD video camera and connection to your iPad or laptop. They weren't thinking of my obsession with diving ducks, of course. What HydroView does is let you see fish, scope out dive locations, look for underwater treasures, find stuff that fell off a dock or a boat, check the bottom of your boat for damage, find out what's tangled in your propeller, and all sorts of things fishermen and boaters need to do.

I enjoyed talking with the folks from re:covers about their fashionable covers for orthopedic walking boots, casts and braces. Brilliant! They protect the site of the injury and add a stylish boost to your recovery. How cool is that?
Voices Against Violence
Voices Against Violence is a non-profit that empowers domestic violence victims and survivors to help themselves. Domestic violence is hard to talk about. It's complex. We need to talk about it more. A lot more. Maybe if people felt more empowered to talk about it and get help, more tragedies could be prevented.


NameFind helps find the perfect brand name for your business, secure the domain names, social media handles and trademarks, and does it all in one place. Plus they have a cool mascot.

Cool Mascot for namefind
Mystery Gift Machine makes gift giving as much fun and as surprising as receiving the gift. A robot descends from space, takes inputs, picks and ships the best gift. OK, it's not really from space, but it is fun. 

Mystery Gift Machine
The History List is a cool idea too. I didn't make it to the rest of the tables. There was just so much cool stuff to look at in the Verizon Innovation Center that I couldn't take all that in, let alone all the products/organizations and experts. That's when you know you're having a good Mass Innovation Night.

The Crowd
The space was awesome. Did I say that already? What with a car, a connected bike, cool touch screen games, Lego ... and more ...

Connected Bike in the Experts Corner

Bobbie and Robert
I got Bobbie C and Robert Gray from At-Hand Apps to pose for a "Bobs" portrait. And, as usual, I'll close with an Expert Looking Expert shot.

Expert Looking Expert from Constant Contact

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

the disconnect

Cable = Most Important Word in the Merrimack Valley
It's been a couple of weeks now since "the disconnect" and the post-disconnect analysis is in full swing.Today's Eagle Tribune has an article about the aftermath: "Something that valuable has to be secured." The Town of North Andover is reflecting on what happened and planning for how to cope with the next great disconnect. So here I am finally getting around to finishing the post I started about it.

For a few days at the end of August I had no Internet, phone, or TV here at the edge of the universe. Turns out lots of people in Lawrence and North Andover were in the same boat. A homeless man’s mattress caught on fire. The flaming mattress was under a bridge over the Merrimack River -- the bridge where Verizon's conduits, packed with copper wires and fiber optic cables, also cross the Merrimack. The burning mattress took down the backbone of Verizon’s network for this region. The outage mainly affected the Merrimack Valley, but it even touched cities as far away as Gloucester.
NECN Truck Covering the Story

Yes folks, the Interwebz still depends on wires. Yes, ATMs and credit card processors and frequent buyer rewards points at Panera Bread and a whole host of other services we take for granted depend on wires. Melted plastic conduits under a bridge disconnected thousands of people. Everybody from Good Day Cafe to the Lowell Spinners felt the effects. This outage shut down the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Lawrence and Wilmington. The Eagle Tribune had an article asking "How vulnerable are we?" 
Verizon Trucks Lined Up Along the North Canal

The answer, I'm afraid, is that we're way more vulnerable than we think we are. Most of us never think about the infrastructure that supports communications.  We tend not to think of the Internet as a physical thing. What few people using their smart phones, WiFi, and their computers realize is that their calls and data still travels through wires - copper cables and fiber cables. Yup, there's still a lot of copper cable out there. Many members of the Connected Generation (OK, and their elders too maybe -- if they're not techies or telecoms people) think their voice or data travels through the air to a cell tower and  then through air to another cell phone. The towers are connected by wires -- either copper or fiber cable.  And yes, the great disconnect affected cellular coverage too.

More Verizon Trucks Along the North Canal
I had recently started reading Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum, so found both synchronicity and irony in the great disconnect. Blum talks about how he hadn't really thought about the Internet infrastructure until a squirrel chewed through the wires at his Brooklyn apartment and his WiFi went out. A squirrel inspired him to explore where the Internet cable outside his house actually goes.

Well, now I know that the FiOS cable to/from my house crosses the Merrimack River under the Central Bridge in Lawrence. It was a nice day for a walk and without Internet I couldn't work, so I grabbed my camera and went for a long walk.  There's nothing like an excuse to photograph the historic buildings and canals of Lawrence, not to mention the Great Stone Dam. The views of the mill buildings from the Central Bridge are excellent and there's a walkway along the North Canal.

Tight Quarters Under the Bridge
There were Verizon trucks everywhere. They were lined up along the canal. They were under the bridge. There were two or three of them in front of me at every stop light. Additional trucks from Phoenix Communications were there with huge rolls of fiber optic cable. As I walked across the bridge and along the canal, I ran into a few Verizon workers who had been working around the clock to bring back service. Real people fixing physical things in the material world. I made a point of thanking them for their hard work. The folks splicing cables under the bridge are not the ones who didn't plan for redundancy and security.

There are parallels here to both the National Grid response to the October snowstorm last year (power out for over 5 days  at my place -- longer other places) and to the Heroku outage on top of the AWS outage caused by the violent thunderstorms in Virginia. Insufficient redundancy and "cloud on top of cloud" architecture assume that nothing physical will ever break.  Guess what? Things break. Weather knocks down trees and takes out power. Flaming mattresses melt PVC conduits. We need to plan for that. In the olden days of the Ma Bell monopoly, they actually did plan for weather and disasters and they had a goal of 99.999% reliability.  While I definitely don't think we need a monopoly like that ever again, we do need more attention to reliability and contingency planning. We also need a whole lot more communication among the various owners of all the pieces that make up the Internet infrastructure.

While I was incommunicado, the sun rose and set a couple of times, the Red Sox lost a couple of games, my cousin Stephan and his lovely wife Lisa welcomed their new son to the world, water flowed over the Great Stone Dam, cormorants stood on rocks in the Merrimack to dry their wings,  and cedar waxwings flitted past the window of Three Dogz Diner in the physical world. Mountains and rivers remain.

Fiber Optics Experts
Verizon Truck Next to Canal