Thursday, August 30, 2007

Adobe starts to assemble R&D lab in Newton reports that Adobe is hiring some of the former researchers from Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs in Cambridge and setting up a research department at its Newton facility (which was once Macromedia/Allaire's home.) Wade Roush writes:

    So far, Adobe executives are treating the MERL acquisitions without fanfare. “We have hired a few people from MERL…[and] started a small outpost in Newton,” remarked senior vice president and chief software architect Tom Malloy, who heads Adobe’s Advanced Technology Labs, in a recent conversation with Xconomy. Malloy said employing researchers in the Boston area will help cement ties with local research institutions. “We’re interested in sort of pairing up with our colleagues in our Newton development office and also being partners with some of the local universities out there,” Malloy said.

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The Coughlin Incident: New Mass Biotech Chief Off to a Rocky Start

The new head of the Massachusetts Biotech Council, Robert Coughlin, is already in some pretty warm water, facing an ethics complaint filed by Republicans because he may not have notified the governor soon enough that he was talking to the Council about taking the gig.

Coughlin apparently met with the Mass Biotech Council's search committee on June 11th, according to the Globe, but didn't disclose to Gov. Patrick that he was in discussions until July 24th, when he recused himself from overseeing life sciences issues. The Council announced his appointment, somewhat abruptly, on August 13th, four days after the other candidate for the job, State Senator Jack Hart, dropped out of contention. Coughlin was on vacation in the wilds of Colorado and couldn't give the Globe an interview on the day of his announcement -- a strange stumble during what you'd expect would be a well-planned PR event.

Here are the stories:

In that last piece, columnist Joan Vennochi writes:

    ...All it would have taken was for Coughlin to disclose his discussions at the outset. Under state law, that disclosure is supposed to trigger a review that would either reassign his state duties to another employee, or determine that reassignment wasn't necessary.
    Now, the public has the right to wonder if Coughlin's job talks influenced his policy negotiations on the state's behalf.
    And the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council has the right to wonder how much the controversy influences their access to the Patrick administration.

Coughlin's first day on the job is the Tuesday after Labor Day.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

New CEO for Ambient Devices: Carl Yankowski, formerly CEO at Palm Computing

I've been a fan of Ambient Devices' well-designed info displays since founder David Rose first told me about the concept: liberating information from the PC screen. (I wrote about them in Wired in 2002 and the Globe earlier that year.)

But I was surprised to learn this afternoon that Carl Yankowski, formerly president of Sony Electronics and CEO of both Palm Computing and Reebok, has joined the small Cambridge start-up. (Yankowski had also been part of the interview process for the directorship of MIT's Media Lab; interestingly, Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte is a board member at Ambient.) He's got big goals for the company: a $200 million market cap within five years.

Carl's Wikipedia and LinkedIn profiles reflect his new gig, which he started earlier this month.

Ambient's newest product, the Ambient Umbrella, was featured on 'Good Morning America' last month. The handle lights up based on the weather forecast, to let you know when you should take the umbrella with you.

Update: ex-Ambient exec Nabeel Hyatt has some commentary on Yankowski's hiring on his blog. Nabeel writes:

    An outside CEO is usually brought in for one of two reasons:

    a) Holy shit, this startup is totally screwed, let's fire someone so we can blame it on him. You see this frequently, with the recent exit of Dave Sifry at Technorati as a good example.

    b) Holy shit, this startup isn't a startup anymore, and the current challenges require someone entirely different. There are a host of examples here as well, such as Google.

He says that Ambient hiring Yankowski is "clearly Scenario B."

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How Many of the Fastest-Growing Companies in America are in New England?

Here's a map that's fun to play with: it shows which of the 200 fastest-growing companies in the US are based here in New England, according to Inc. Magazine. (Thanks to Barb Heffner for the link.)

I didn't have time to count, but according to this blog post from the Globe, 24 of the top 500 Inc. companies are in Massachusetts.

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Boston's mobile start-up ecosystem

Connecting mobile phones to the Internet creates opportunities for start-ups -- and erodes the totalitarian control your cell phone carrier has long exerted over what you do with your handset. That's the starting point of Carolyn Johnson's piece in the Globe this morning. She looks at Boston's mobile start-ups, writing:

    Mobile media companies in New England attracted $33.5 million in investments in 2005, a number that tripled to $104.2 million last year, according to Dow Jones VentureOne. In the first half of 2007, mobile media companies have attracted $49.5 million in investments in Massachusetts.

    "People say that it's just a novelty now. But when the PC connected to the Internet, it transformed a word processor to a communication platform, to a media platform," said John Puterbaugh, founder and chief strategist at Nellymoser in Arlington, which takes content from places like Comedy Central and VH1 and mashes it up into cellphone-sized bits of video, audio, and visuals.

There's also a related piece about a contest sponsored by Boston-based Ulocate that'll try to motivate developers to create new location-aware applications.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Two lists worth a look: Promising life sciences start-ups and powerful VC firms

Back in the springtime, I was involved with assembling the second edition of "The Convergence Guide," a book that looks at life sciences activity in New England. We put together two lists that have just shown up profiles the top ten venture firms doing life sciences deals in New England (compiled by Dan Primack, who writes for PE Week and Venture Capital Journal)... and one examines the ten most promising life sciences startups (put together by Steven Dickman, a biotech consultant who used to write for Nature, Science, and The Economist.) It was distributed at the BIO International Convention in May, and Gov. Deval Patrick wrote the foreword.

The VC list is here, in PDF form. The run-down:

    1 Polaris Venture Partners
    2 Atlas Venture
    3 MPM Capital
    4 Novartis Corp.
    5 SV Life Sciences Advisers
    6 Flagship Ventures
    7 TVM Capital
    8 Boston University Community Technology Fund
    9 Oxford Bioscience Partners
    10 HealthCare Ventures

And the list of companies is here, in PDF form. The first company on the list, Adnexus Therapeutics, just filed for an IPO today. That list, in alphabetical order:

    Adnexus Therapeutics (MA, just filed to go public)
    Aveo Pharmaceuticals (MA)
    Codon Devices (MA)
    Helicos BioSciences (MA, now public)
    Microbia (MA)
    Neurotech (RI)
    Radius Health (MA)
    Sirtris Pharmaceuticals (MA, now public)
    Targanta Therapeutics (MA)
    Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals (MA)

Plus three companies Dickman dubbed worthy of being "on the radar": Acceleron Pharma, GI Dynamics, and Tempo Pharmaceuticals.

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Where Web 2.0 Start-Ups Go Wrong with PR

Lots of Web 2.0 start-ups try to avoid hiring a public relations firm as long as possible, to keep a tight grip on costs. That’s a decision I totally get.

But why do they make it so hard for journalists to contact them?

Over the past five years, a number of things have happened which have been counter-productive when it comes to getting free publicity in mainstream newspapers, magazines, and Web sites.

In the olden days of the Web, every site had a prominent “Contact” page, which listed the company’s address, phone number, a general e-mail address, and perhaps the names of the founders or senior executives.

From a journalist’s perspective, that was great.

If you were writing for a newspaper in Minneapolis and were looking for a particular type of start-up in that city, Google would help you out, leading you directly to a company you might’ve never heard of before...because they let you know that their headquarters were in the Twin Cities.

If you needed a quick quote at 5:30 PM (for most newspaper journalists, this is usually in the last hour before their deadline) about a particular news event that happened that day (Microsoft buys Your Main Competitor), you could easily find a start-ups phone number, dial it, and ask for the CEO. If that person wasn’t in, you’d often get their cell phone number from their voice mail, and get a comment from them that you could include in your story.

But what has happened in the wonderful new era of Web 2.0 is that companies have suddenly gotten coy about where they are, and how to reach them. Most sites, if they have a contact page, tell you nothing about where they’d headquartered, and if they give you a way to contact them, it’s a generic e-mail address ( or a “Contact” form (“Just fill in these seventeen fields, click submit, and someone from our PR team will get back to you.”)

And when Web 2.0 companies put out press releases, there’s often no contact info at the bottom.

I suspect that’s happening for two reasons: a lot of Web 2.0 companies have no office (they’re based in a dorm room, a Starbuck’s branch, or another company’s borrowed conference room), and they have very few employees. Why make it easy for every user who has forgotten his password to dial you up and waste your time?

Unfortunately, you’re also making it harder for journalists to get in touch when they’re working on stories. I almost never send e-mail to addresses, or fill out contact forms – usually because you never get a response, or if you do, it comes three days later, when a story has already been wrapped and published. Instead, if a company doesn’t offer a phone number and I really want to talk with them, I search Google for a few minutes to see if I can get their phone number, call 411 if I happen to know where they’re based – and then usually give up after about four or five minutes of trying. I just move on to another prospective interviewee.

Here’s an experiment you might try for a few months, to see if it produces any results. (I’m certainly open to the possibility that it could generate scads of unwanted phone calls.) Put the name of a person who is responsible for PR on your Web site, and their e-mail address, and their phone number. If you really want to make yourself accessible to journos, put a cell phone number there, too.

This person could be one of your team members, or, if you have a PR firm, the person there who handles your account. (Just be sure you keep the name of this person updated, since the cast of characters at PR firms sometimes seems to change weekly.) When you send press releases over the wires or just post them on your site, put this same contact info at the bottom of them.

If this experiment doesn’t work, just go back to the old way:

Yes, you can try to prove to journalists how cool you are: "We don’t use phones anymore… instead, Skype us, IM us, leave your question as a comment on our blog, or post a message on our Facebook profiles."

But unfortunately, I’d estimate that about 80 percent of professional magazine/newspaper/Web journos working on deadline don’t have time to do that. (Bloggers may be a different story, since I think they tend to be more averse to picking up the phone.)

There may be a time when journalists up against a deadline no longer want or need to call sources on the phone for a quick five or ten minute chat. I just don’t think that time has arrived yet.

So why are you making it so hard for journos to get in touch?

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'Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days'

Just finished reading Jessica Livingston's 'Founders at Work' over the weekend. It's a compilation of interviews with enterpreneurs -- many of them from the Boston area.

So few books are published that deal with building companies here...and Jessica gets into the nitty-gritty: relationships with co-founders, negotiations with VCs, competing with bigger players.

The Boston entrepreneurs interviewed in the book include:

    - Dan Bricklin, Software Arts (VisiCalc spreadsheet)
    - Mitchell Kapor, Lotus Development Corp.
    - Ray Ozzie, Groove Networks (Ray is now chief software architect of Microsoft)
    - Paul Graham, Viaweb (Graham went on to start Y Combinator, the early stage venture firm in Cambridge, where Livingston works)
    - Philip Greenspun, ArsDigita (now a blogger and flight instructor)
    - Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor
    - Ron Gruner, Alliant Computer Systems and
    - James Currier, Tickle (Tickle was founded in Boston as Emode, and then moved out to San Francisco before being acquired by
    - Bob Davis, Lycos (now a VC at Highland Capital Partners in Lexington)

Amazingly, there's a blurb on the back cover from Bill Kaiser of the venture firm Greylock Partners, which was involved in a very public battle with ArsDigita founder Philip Greenspun (it's recounted in Greenspun's chapter, in piquant detail)

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New-and-Improved MIT Museum will Open in Late Sept.

I'm really excited about the MIT Museum's $3 million renovation project. This is a place that has too long been hidden away, when it deserves to be a big part of Boston's tech and cultural communities. From Felicia Mello's piece in the Globe today:

    The new gallery will eschew historical exhibits to focus on cutting-edge projects including a stackable electric car, new-generation robots that explore the ocean floor, and tropical fish that are helping scientists in the search for a cancer cure. It is the brainchild of museum director John Durant, who arrived two years ago from a British science museum with frenetic energy and what he calls a bullish outlook about the ability to engage the average Joe or Jane in learning about science.

    ...Durant has pushed to raise the museum's public image, helping start a citywide science festival earlier this year. He is one of many science museum directors looking to dust off their collections and update them to reflect recent discoveries.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Today's Globe column: 'Why biotech CEOs need to think like Steve Jobs'

Today's Globe column deals with the importance of being able to sell a big vision in life sciences -- especially when a start-up is trying to pioneer a new area of science.

Among the CEOs I mention as "poster child" communicators are several alumni of Millennium Pharmaceuticals, including John Maraganore of Alnylam, Steve Holtzman of Infinity, and Alan Crane of Tempo Pharmaceuticals. Then you've got Christoph Westphal of Sirtris, and Josh Boger of Vertex. All these guys have elements of Steve Jobs' ability to communicate something ambitious and exciting -- something that is sorely missing among tech companies in New England right now.

The video clip features Alan Crane explaining how Tempo is using nanotechnology to engineer a new kind of cancer drug.

Finally, a few quotes that didn't make it into the edited piece....

“Someone who is a great storyteller can win people over with relatively little substance,” says Michael Gilman, formerly executive vice president of research at Biogen Idec. “But other people tend to be rubbed the wrong way by it.”

“The scientist in me is never going to make assertions that I don’t think I can back up with data,” says Gilman. “That’s just the way I’m wired. If you promise too much and disappoint, it’s not good for you in the long run.” Gilman founded Stromedix, Inc. of Cambridge in 2005, licensing a product that Biogen Idec had started to develop. It’ll begin trials later this year.

“Companies undergo a brutal and challenging transition when they’re forced to be evaluated on the merits of their products,” says Steven Dickman, CEO of the consultancy CBT Advisors. Dickman worked with Alnylam in its early days...

That transition hasn't quite happened yet for all of the companies I mention in the piece; while they've got drugs in clinical trials, none are yet on the market.

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Friday, August 24, 2007 Scuttlebut on New England VCs

I'm just getting a chance to spend some time reading, a site where entrepreneurs discuss the venture capital firms they've dealt with. They present Zagat-like ratings of each firm (on criteria like "track record" and "favorable deal terms"), along with short reviews from entrepreneurs.

There are ratings for most of the major New England VC firms, including Highland Capital, Polaris, Longworth, General Catalyst, Greylock, IDG Ventures, Spark Capital, and Fidelity Ventures.

Some of the common complaints: VC firms that blow off scheduled meetings; firms that invite start-ups in, only to collect intelligence for another company in the same space that they're funding (or planning to fund); schizophrenic, hot-and-cold feedback; and, of course, firms that fire the founders and bring in new CEOs.

(Jeff Bussgang of IDG has a post about TheFunded, which touches on the issue of VC arrogance.)

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Zipcar chases college students

From yesterday's Wall Street Journal: Zipcar goes to college. Darren Everson writes:

    Traditional rental-car companies largely avoid the student market because of concerns about liability. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the crash rate per mile driven for 16-19-year-olds is four times that of drivers 20 and older. Companies seek to mitigate risk through surcharges and higher minimum age requirements. Hertz's minimum age is 21 in all states except Michigan and New York, where it's 18; Hertz renters under the age of 25 are also subject to an age differential charge. Avis Budget has a minimum age of 21 in most locations and has a $110 per day surcharge in New York state for renters 18 to 24.

    The car-sharing companies, by contrast, are aiming to manage their risk by requiring that 18-to-20-year-old applicants have two years' driving experience and a clean record, and that they be a student at a participating school. There are no additional fees or deposits, although Flexcar also requires parental consent and a copy of the student's current auto-insurance policy showing the policy's limits. Flexcar requires that 18-20-year-olds have $300,000 of additional liability coverage. But otherwise, insurance works the same way for 18-year-old car sharers as it does for older ones: In an accident, the car-sharing company's insurance covers the cost except for a $500 deductible, which applies if the member is at fault.

    The car-sharing companies believe they can tap into the younger market safely because of their business model, which allows them to screen customers by their driving record, and because of the clientele. "The reason we see a difference is because we're a membership-driven system," says Scott Griffith, president and chief executive of Zipcar.

Zipcar's main competitor on campus is Flexcar.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Dan Bricklin visits Eclipse

Dan Bricklin, Boston area software guru, once worked with Vern Raburn, the founder of Eclipse Aviation, at Slate Corp. - a pioneer of pen-based computing that never took off. Dan has a great post, with video and photos, about his recent visit to Eclipse in Albuquerque. It's a great companion to my Sunday column about Linear Air, which has a bunch of Eclipses on order.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Five Most Common Conflicts Among Founders

Dharmesh Shah of the software company HubSpot has a great blog post about the five most common conflicts that occur among founders of start-ups:

    1. The "Who Gets What?" Conflict

    2. The "I Work Harder Than You!" Conflict

    3. The "Who Gets To Decide?" Conflict

    4. The "I Can't Stand Jill, One Of Us Has To Leave!" Conflict

    5. The "We're Going Down In Burning Flames…" Conflict

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Boston's bustling vid-game scene

Watha has a nice piece in the Globe today about the increasingly happening vid-game scene here in Boston, along with a side-bar that looks at some of the hottest developers and their games. He writes:

    Three of the year's most anticipated new video games -- Rock Band, BioShock, and Lord of the Rings Online -- are products of Boston-area studios, and for the first time in two decades the world is looking to the Boston area for some of the coolest new computer games.

    Companies like Turbine Inc. of Westwood, Blue Fang Games LLC in Waltham, and 2K Boston in Quincy, formerly known as Irrational Games, are making their mark in the $7 billion market for video game software, producing titles that attract critical acclaim and millions of players. GamerMetrics, which tracks discussions of games on blogs and websites, ranks 2K Boston's BioShock -- which goes on sale today -- as the 10th most anticipated game of the year. Turbine's Lord of the Rings was the best-selling game for desktop computers in April, the month of its premiere, and remained among the top 10 sellers in May and June, according to market research firm NPD Group.

If you're interested in the local gaming community, the monthly event to know about is Post Mortem, usually held at The Skellig in Waltham.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Today's Globe Column: Private Air Travel for the Rest of Us?

This morning's Boston Globe column covers Linear Air, a company that hopes to make private air travel more accessible to a wide range of travelers. And they're flying the brand-new Eclipse 500, a plane certified by the FAA only last year.

In the companion video report, Bill Herp talks about the strategy behind Linear, some of the projected costs for passengers, and the Eclipse 500 jet. You'll also get to see the exterior and interior of the plane, and some shots of the Eclipse taxiing around Hanscom and then taking off.

Two Massachusetts-related details I didn't touch on in the column: the interior of the Eclipse was designed by the Boston office of the design firm IDEO, and its flat-panel displays come from Bedford-based Avidyne (though Eclipse later this year will be abandoning the Avidyne displays).

Aside from Linear, there's one other "air taxi" company that will start flying the Eclipse this fall: DayJet. DayJet is extremely well-funded compared with Linear, having raised about $68 million in equity compared to Linear’s $6 million. But the company’s model is different; customers will pay a $250 annual fee, and have the option of purchasing individual seats on routes within Florida; Linear customers will need to book the entire plane. DayJet's initial focus will be the southeastern U.S.

I asked Philip Greenspun, one of my favorite local aviation bloggers, what he thinks of the Eclipse and Linear Air's chances, and while his response arrived too late for the column (he's currently traveling in Africa), here's a snippet of what he said:

    Our training helicopters at East Coast Aero Club share a hangar with the Linear Air guys, so I see them operate every day and I'm cautiously optimistic about the company. They have a staff of great pilots who enjoy their work and, I'm sure, communicate their joy in flying to the customers. Linear Air shouldn't have any trouble hiring more pilots, though, sadly there aren't too many 110 lb. women who want to be professional pilots and that is what they're going to need to operate the Eclipse.

    Going by the numbers, the Eclipse sounds useless as an air taxi. I'm 6' tall and have sat in the front seats and they are quite
    comfortable. Unfortunately for the passengers, the rear of the aircraft is pretty cramped. If you remove two seats, you've now got a reasonably spacious cabin for two passengers. With two beefy pilots in the front seats and two beefy business guys in the back seats, the real-world range might be limited to about 700 miles. You aren't going to escape to the Bahamas in the depths of a Boston winter in a Linear Air Eclipse, at least not non-stop.

    The real air taxi market should be friendlier to Linear Air and the Eclipse than the fantasy market. We dream of escaping to a tiny island in the Bahamas with our six best friends, but most business travel from the Boston area ends up somewhere else within the Northeast and the typical passenger load on a business jet is only 1.3 people. There isn't a lot of romance in a trip to Allentown, Pennsylvania with the assistant vice president of sales, but the Eclipse will make the trip quietly, comfortably, and quickly.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Conference tech start-up nTAG grabs $8.3 million

nTAG started out as a cool demo at the MIT Media Lab -- intelligent nametags that could exchange information with one another. Researcher Rick Borovoy decided to turn the demo into a company.

Some of the earliest deployments were kind of sketchy; at PopTech in 2003, attendees seemed more interested in talking about what was wrong with the tags, which were supposed to help identify like-minded folks, than what was right with them.

But now nTAG has developed into more of a full-fledged "event technology" company, offering conference organizers technology for surveys, personalized agendas, and cell phone audience polling.

Today, the Boston-based company announced an $8.3 million second round of VC from Sevin Rosen and Pilot House Ventures. An earlier jolt of funding was $6 million last January, from the same funds. Company has raised a total of $23 million, according to VentureBeat.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007 Videoblog

The US edition of the videoblog launched in July; part of their goal is covering Web start-ups in the Northeast. (The name Intruders, editor Bruno Langlais explained to me, refers to the fact that they consider themselves outsiders -- not part of the "old boys network" here.)

They've already posted video interviews with Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital, David Beisel of Venrock, and -- their first big mistake -- me. We talked about the differences between the tech scene on the East and West coasts, and why it sometimes seems that Web 2.0 start-ups like Twitter, which are headquartered in SiliValley, get more attention and momentum than similar start-ups like Going, headquartered in Boston.

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Top Innovators Under 35: From Technology Review

Technology Review, MIT's alumni newsletter, put out its annual list of the most interesting innovators under 35 today.

Who's on the list from New England?

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

VMware Delivers 2007's Best First-Day IPO Performance

VMware, based in Palo Alto but owned by EMC of Hopkinton, went public today. The IPO price was $29, and the stock closed at $51, according to The Wall Street Journal. From the piece:

    "Considering their light competition and extreme growth continuing, this may still be a reasonable valuation," said Scott Sweet, managing director of, an IPO-research service in Tampa, Fla., of the company's first-day's gains. Mr. Sweet received shares in the offering for his personal account, but sold them in early trading Tuesday.

    Rachel Chalmers, an analyst at technology-research firm the 451 Group, says VMware's virtualization software can reduce office space dedicated to hardware, cut down on the amount of air-conditioning needed to keep servers cool and run upgrades and do maintenance without having to shut down machines. VMware began shipping a new product last year that targets desktop computers, which she says is the next market frontier for virtualization. The company estimates that only 1% of the world's business desktops are currently using virtualization software.

    Since its founding in 1998, "VMware has grown faster than any other software company we have come across," says Ms. Chalmers, whose husband is employed by another virtualization-software firm, XenSource.

The Journal also offers a primer on what VMware does, calling it "an unsexy technology with a sexy stock price."

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Cruise on Over to See Hull's Wind Turbine

Not a lot of tech networking events take place in the dog days of August ... but this one put on by TiE (the Indus Entrepreneurs association) looks like a winner: a cruise to Hull's wind turbine from Quincy, followed by a tour and seminar on the science of wind power.

Interestingly, the tour takes you to Hull's smaller turbine (660 kilowatts), out on the tip of the peninsula, rather than their newer, more powerful 1.8 megawatt turbine, which was put into service last June. That one sits on a decommissioned landfill. I haven't been to the site of the newer turbine -- but it sounds less-picturesque (and possibly smellier).

Here's the Hull Wind site; they have some cool video clips from the dedication of Hull Wind 2, the newer turbine.

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IBM creating new 'campus' in Westford/Littleton

IBM will bring together 3400 of its 5000 Massachusetts employees, most of whom work on software, at a new campus off Route 495 in Westford and Littleton, saith the Globe.

I'm not sure that two office complexes separated by three miles exactly constitutes a "campus," but...OK.

From Rob Weisman's piece:

    The changes are intended to foster more collaboration between Massachusetts software companies IBM has acquired since 1995, including Lotus Development Corp., Rational Software Corp., Ascential Software Corp., and, most recently, Watchfire Corp.

The real estate shuffle is expected to be done by the end of the decade.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Mass Biotech Council Picks Another Pol

The Mass Biotech Council has picked former Massachusetts State Rep Robert Coughlin as its new president. Coughlin has been serving as undersecretary of business development in the Deval Patrick administration.

Here's a quick roundup on Coughlin:

Coughlin starts in October. No word whether Mass Biotech is paying him Tom Finneran's old salary, which was $416,000.

(Photo of Coughlin courtesy of Mass Biotech Council.)

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bringing Together Web 2.0ers in Boston

I'm really glad that Carolyn Johnson wrote this great piece in Saturday's Globe. It makes note of just how many different efforts there are to bring together the Web 2.0 community in Boston: communal workspaces like Betahouse in Central Square, as well as regular gatherings like TastyBytes, OpenCoffee, Web Innovators Grouip, and Tech Cocktail, which is taking place for the first time on September 6th.

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Today's Globe Column: The Amazing Story Behind EnerNOC

If you're running a start-up and you need some motivation, today's column is especially for you. It's the story of EnerNOC, a company founded in the midst of the dot-com aftermath, in which the main lessons are about persistence and unshakable belief in one's ideas.

Here's the opening:

    The first time I met Tim Healy, at a cocktail party in 1999, he was an associate at Commonwealth Capital, a Waltham venture capital firm.

    The next time I bumped into Healy, at a cocktail party last month, the 38-year-old entrepreneur had taken his company, EnerNOC Inc., public on Nasdaq, and he was on his way to Manhattan to ring the stock market's closing bell.

    What happened in the intervening eight years is an entrepreneurial fairy tale.

(That makes it sound like all I do as a reporter is go to cocktail parties. Close to the truth..)

The video is below, in which Healy talks about the challenges he faced raising VC money, and how he tried to tilt the odds in his favor. There's also an e-mail message from Healy, when I asked him about a rumor that he funded the company, pre-VC, with credit cards.

During the process of working on today's column, I asked Healy how much credit card debt he accumulated. He responded via e-mail:

    For a variety of reasons, I don't give out how much debt we accumulated but I can tell you that at the time EnerNOC raised its Series A, I had approximately 17 different credit cards open by that point and I am pretty sure almost all of them had a balance. I can only imagine what David's personal situation looked like [David Brewster, Healy's co-founder] but we tried not to talk about the debt since talking about personal debt wasn't a whole lot of fun and we always believed it would be worth it in the long run. For a little while after we first got funded I couldn't really afford a place to live in Boston so I actually slept in my car and in my office for a month before a friend's place opened up and he graciously let me stay there for a while. I remember that I also bunked at another friend's place -- John Pepper's. The only reason I mention it is that John is the CEO and founder of the Boloco chain of restaurants in town (formerly The Wrap) and also a Tuck and Dartmouth grad so we shared a lot of early startup stories back then, keeping each other motivated and convincing one another we weren't crazy. After I allocated some friend and family stock to him in May, I feel as though I finally repaid him for those free nights and the great dinners his wife made me....needless to say, he's very happy now, since our stock is up and we just finished telling Wall Street about the great growth we see ahead. [EnerNOC's first quarterly conference call was this past week.]

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Morning at Matrix Partners

I had a chance to sit down with David Skok and Nick Beim this morning at Matrix Partners in Waltham. We covered a lot of ground...but I was especially interested in some of the higher-level perspectives that David and Nick served up.

David says that when people think about disruption, they often think about technology disruption: cell phones replacing land-lines, or minicomputers replacing mainframes. "But what's more often happening now," he says, "are business model disruptions." He mentioned two in particular: companies offering software as a service are gnawing into the revenues of companies that sell software by-the-seat, and companies built on open source technology are taking share from companies with proprietary technology. David, of course, is investing in open source, and he says he has investments in two new SaaS companies that are still in stealth mode.

Nick, whom I bumped into yesterday at the Y Combinator Demo Day, is an investor in, based in NYC, and in Waltham.

"There has been lots of attention given to viral sites that work, like YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, and Flickr," Nick says. But how many sites are out there with plans to "go viral" that no one has ever heard of?

If you look at who's actually making money, Nick says, some of the more interesting businesses are being built around lead-gen, product comparison sites, and online subscriptions. (He's especially a fan of TripAdvisor, the Needham site that is basically a lead-gen engine for online travel agencies.) As examples of the last category, he mentioned a few companies I hadn't heard Bag Borrow or Steal and Steve Case's Revolution Places, as well as a few I had, like Zipcar, Netflix, and

Before I left, I tweaked Matrix a bit for not having a partner who blogs. There's a disruption happening here, too: not a technology or business model disruption, but a networking disruption.

I think the old model of venture capitalist, which I'm sure can still be successful, waits for the entrepreneur to figure out how to network her way to them: who can introduce me, how do I make the connection and get that meeting? The new model was on display Thursday at Y Combinator: VCs like David Hornik and Fred Wilson (of CA and NY, respectively), whose blogging helps weave them into the entrepreneurial community and makes them more accessible. People know what they're thinking about because they blog it -- and that gives them an opening to say, 'I know you've been blogging about X, and we're building a company in that space.'

I wonder if, over time, that may give them access to more deals of the Facebook type, where a founder is in college or just out, has no connections to the Waltham VC community, may not know any entrepreneurs who can make introductions, but happens to bump into one of these blogging VCs at an event.

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BBQ for Entrepreneurs

There was an informal gathering of about 35 entrepreneurs last night at Bill Warner's Collaboration Space in Cambridge, which I helped organize.

There were founders from just about every corner of the tech world, from air taxi start-ups like Linear Air to gaming companies like Conduit Labs to printer companies like AirPrint. (Perhaps enterprise software was under-represented.) There was no panel discussion, no speeches -- just some informal introductions, schmoozing, food from Blue Ribbon Barbecue in Arlington, and beer from Pabst Blue Ribbon in Milwaukeee. Bill had an LCD projector that people could hook up to to show demos. I was especially impressed with what Actuality Systems and Veveo were showing... I'd seen LocaModa's demo before, but it was fun having a game up on the screen that people could sent text messages to to play.

Some people talked a bit about the differences between the tech scenes Boston and California (I didn't bring it up - I swear). But mostly, it was just a really interesting group of people talking about what they're up to. Amazingly, when asked for a show of hands, about 90 percent were working on some sort of consumer-oriented technology or site.

In the photo at right is Yonald Chery, new father, who brought some supplemental barbecue, turning the event into a kind of barbecue taste-off. Yonald's Memphis-style dry rub brisket is pretty incredible; he has won the catering contract for my next party.

Update: Here are Halley Suitt's Flickr photos from the event.

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Thursday, August 9, 2007

Demo Day at Y Combinator

I'd heard lots of great things about Y Combinator, a seed funding firm that operates a kind of summer camp for start-ups. And their Cambridge office is right down the street from me, near Huron Village. (Here's a Newsweek story and a USA Today piece about them.)

Today was their "demo day," when the start-ups they help cultivate show off what they've built. Y Combinator partner Jessica Livingston was kind enough to extend an invitation, though some of the event was off-the-record. (Jessica is the author of 'Founders at Work,' a really wonderful collection of entrepreneur interviews.)

So this was my first chance to see what Y Combinator actually does.

The good news first.

The audience was amazing: VCs from Matrix, General Catalyst, Atlas Venture, North Bridge, Fidelity Ventures, and Venrock. VC bloggers Fred Wilson and David Hornik. Execs from Microsoft and Google. Avid Technology founder Bill Warner was in the front row.

The start-ups were equally amazing: nineteen of them, all with working demos, all with really great presentation skills. Many of the demos were funny; Fauxto's demo involved turning Steve Ballmer's eyes green, and superimposing the Google logo on his forehead. Dropbox, which hasn't yet launched, made subtle and snarky references to dot-com flame-outs from the late 1990s (like GovWorks,, and Kozmo) during its demo of an online storage service.

Now the bad news... several of the enterpreneurs I talked to who have connections to the Boston area are planning to move their companies out west. The Y Combinator network is perceived to be stronger out in the Valley (the firm does a winter program in Mountain View). The VCs more adventurous. The partnership opportunities more plentiful. The potential for generating buzz better.

Is it hopeless to think about trying to change some of these dynamics?

(Here's Don Dodge's post about the event.)

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Cape Wind on The Daily Show

Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" aired a hilarious segment on Cape Wind this Tuesday.

Today, Cape Wind's marketing folks are sending it out in an e-mail, and there's a link to it on their home page. (No link on the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound's the clip and you'll see why.)

Here's the video (illegally posted to YouTube):

Here's a Globe item on the segment.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Globe's new biotech reporter

Steve Heuser, who I thought picked up the biotech beat amazingly quickly at the Globe, is moving over to the paper's Sunday Ideas section.

Taking over biotech duties, as of August 20th, will be Todd Wallack.

I've known Todd since he was a business reporter for the Boston Herald in the late 90s. He then moved West to work for the San Francisco Chronicle, where he worked on an important series of stories about high pay and secret perks being doled out to the University of California's Board of Regents, as tuition costs were skyrocketing at the universities they governed. At the Chronicle, he developed into one of the country's foremost "computer-assisted reporters," using databases to uncover stories no one else was telling.

Todd came back to Boston last year, and has been covering tech for the Boston Business Journal. He also has a blog. I'm really glad the Globe got him to cover one of the most active business sectors in the region...a sector with national and global relevance.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Seattle's F5 Networks Buys Lowell-based Acopia Networks

Acopia Networks has cashed out. Though the company was touting itself last year as a potential IPO candidate, an offer of $210 million in cash was apparently impossible to resist. (About $85 million had been invested in the company by VCs, including Charles River Ventures and Accel Partners.) Let's be generous and call this a three-bagger for the VCs involved.

The company virtualizes file-storage systems, making them sub-dividable and accessible from anywhere, as long as they're attached to a network. From eWeek's coverage of the acquisition:

    Acopia, which has about 100 customers, provides appliances that can virtualize heterogeneous network-attached storage devices and file servers. "Anything that serves files using [Common Internet File System] or [Network File System protocols] can be virtualized using file virtualization technology. We do for file systems and file storage what VMware does for servers: We federate existing infrastructure and create a single pool of resources that can be carved up, shared and moved to make provisioning changes or move data without disrupting users during the day," said Kirby Wadsworth, senior vice president of marketing and business development at Acopia, in Lowell, Mass.

Here's Hiawatha's coverage in the Globe.

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Monday, August 6, 2007

Fake Steve Jobs is a Bostonian

The real Steve Jobs lives in Palo Alto, California.

Fake Steve Jobs, it turns out, lives in Boston. The New York Times has outed Forbes senior editor Daniel Lyons (photo at right) as the author of the hilarious (and heretofore anonymously-written) blog "The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs." The publicity may not hurt, since a book by Lyons called "Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs" is on the way in October.

Here's a just-posted Forbes Video (chock full of plenty of ads) featuring Lyons calling in from his vacation place in Maine.

Back in 2005, Lyons wrote a widely-read Forbes piece on the increasingly vitriolic blogosphere. He also used to run a blog called Floating Point, which focused mostly on Linux and open source.

Here's some interesting Apple commentary from a Forbes opinion piece Lyons wrote in March 2006 on Windows Vista:

    Given Microsoft's delays I can't believe open-source stuff still hasn't caught on for desktop computers. It's amazing, but people will wait months and months for products that are so complicated that no ordinary person can figure out how to use them.

    Why not at least switch to an Apple Computer Mac? Apple's new operating system is stable, reliable and easy to use. The applications are simple, gorgeous and work well together. And they're here. Today. Steve Jobs must be waking up a happy man this morning.

( has a reaction piece that I totally agree with: what's wrong with people writing anonymously, when no one is being hurt by it?)

One comment I can't resist: has the real Steve Jobs ever owned a button-down shirt and a boring rust-colored tie? This Dan Lyons is clearly a true Bostonian...

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Sunday, August 5, 2007

Innovation Economy Column (and Video): Davids Competing with Goliaths

Today's Innovation Economy column in the Globe looks at two mapping start-ups based in Massachusetts, EveryScape and Povo. EveryScape is working to create photo-realistic, three-dimensional maps of the world, and Povo is an interesting amalgam of Google Maps, Wikipedia, and Yelp, with a neighborly twist.

One idea I wanted to explore was how small companies like these can, if they're successful, either become acquisition targets for the big guys (in this case, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo) or find themselves competing head-to-head.

I had a short chat with MIT instructor/VC/analyst Howard Anderson on that topic that was quite enlightening -- but which didn't make it into the finished column. Some notes from conversation that are below the video clip, which takes you along for a ride in EveryScape's mapping-mobile.

(For a more basic explanation of what EveryScape aims to do, check out this New England Cable News clip.)

Anderson had some great perspective on the relationship between start-ups and big companies:

    - Start-ups often awaken giants to the potential of a market. If the start-up doesn't move fast, "you get rolled over," Anderson says. "There is a pregnant period of time when you have to become the de facto standard. If not, and only the lunatic fringe likes your product," then you don't matter as a competitor (or potential acquisition) to the big players.

    - "It's easy to compete against the big guy. They're always a little muscle-bound. They take a long time to recognize a new market. What you really have to worry about are the other small companies in the same space. I used to love backing companies that competed against AT&T and IBM. But when you had eight [start-up] companies, so much alike that their mothers couldn't tell them apart, then you never got traction."

    - In meetings with big companies about potential partnerships, start-ups can often be induced by the power differential ("They're Google, who the hell are we?") to say a little too much about what they're doing. "You should talk about your vision, but if you're foolish enough to tell them everything, and show the innards of your product, then you can save them a great amount of time," Anderson says.

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Saturday, August 4, 2007

Robo-Dog Fetches $10 Million in Funding

Boston Dynamics is getting $10 million from DARPA to continue development of BigDog, a robotic dog that may eventually be able to carry equipment for soldiers or run ahead to survey an area (but not fetch a paper, since the robo-dog has no head or jaws.) So far, according to Boston Dynamics, "BigDog has trotted at 3.3 mph, climbed a 35 degree slope and carried a 120 lb load." (In 2004, I wrote about BigDog, along with other robots based on animal models, for the NY Times.)

Here's a video clip of BigDog in action...unbelievably cool when someone tries to knock it over and it regains its footing without falling.

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Friday, August 3, 2007

Linear Air Gets Its First Eclipse Jet

Man-about-town Philip Greenspun reports on the first Eclipse 500 "very light jet" delivered to Linear Air, a Bedford-based on-demand airline start-up. So far, Linear has been flying Cessna Caravan prop planes.

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Fading out? Cambridge's own Xerox PARC

Xerox PARC is the Palo Alto lab famous for developing the graphical user interface, Ethernet, the mouse, and the laser printer. But while it was a petri dish for great research (and great researchers), Xerox PARC famously never did much for Xerox's product line or bottom line.

The Mitsubishi Electric Research Lab in Cambridge is one of the closest things our area has had to a Xerox PARC - a place where cool projects were cultivated that never seemed to have much impact on the parent company back in Japan.

Now, according to this piece in Xconomy, the lab is shrinking. And longtime leader Joe Marks has decamped for Disney, where he's heading up software R&D for the animators.

I'm reprinting, below, an excerpt from an article I wrote for the Globe in 2002, which explored some of MERL's coolest projects at the time.

@ @ @ @ @

"Building Ideas" - Boston Globe, September 18, 2002

- Scott Kirsner

Nervous young researchers are scrambling in and out of a windowless room at the Mitsubishi Electric Research Lab in Cambridge. They’ve just tripped a circuit breaker by trying to run four digital projectors simultaneously.

Once the power returns, a program they’ve written begins to neatly stitch together the images from each of the projectors, creating a massive single image – an IMAX movie for the corporate conference room. But the program keeps crashing in mid-stitch.

If it worked perfectly the first time, it just wouldn’t be the technological bleeding edge. A few minutes later, the snafu has been surmounted, and the projectors begin to harmonize. They paint a rush of colorful imagery against the uneven wall, adjusting flawlessly to its odd angle.

Despite the technology sector’s lingering funk, research groups like the Mitsubishi’s are still working on new hardware and software that could prompt future growth spurts. And Mitsubishi is just one of dozens of commercial and academic research labs in the Boston area that continue to cultivate and prototype promising new technologies.

Even as many tech companies continue to struggle and fail, “the research infrastructure doesn’t die in the Boston area,” says Donald Fraser, currently director of the Photonics Center at Boston University and a former director of Draper Labs, the MIT spin-off that devised the guidance systems for NASA’s Apollo moon missions. “In slow economic periods, you may have a smaller number of people or projects at some of the labs, but you can’t really argue that the sky is falling.”


Mitsubishi Electric Research Lab

The researchers at Mitsubishi Electric Research Lab in Kendall Square conduct demos more like magicians than engineers. Hold this telephone to your ear, they’re apt to instruct a visitor. Now pull it away from your ear. Now put it back.

Somehow, you’ve missed not a second of the conversation – everything that the speaker has said while the phone was away from your ear has been stored digitally. The phone senses when it’s against your ear and when it’s not, and when you’re listening after a break, it replays what you missed at a slightly faster-than-normal rate, until you catch up with the real-time conversation. Potentially very useful for cell phones used in the car.

MERL, as it’s known, attempts to improve and simplify the way humans interact with technology. “Everything that Mitsubishi makes, from elevators to power plants to white goods, requires an interface between a human and the machine,” says Joe Marks, MERL’s director. Marks says that despite corporate budget cutting at many Mitsubishi divisions and the recent strengthening of the dollar relative to the Japanese yen, Mitsubishi hasn’t reduced MERL’s budget, and that the lab’s contingent of 45 researchers has remained stable over the past few years.

One team of MERL researchers is devising software so that multiple LCD projectors (which Mitsubishi makes) can be used together, to create large images on sometimes irregular surfaces. Another team is working on analyzing faces in a video image, discerning which direction people are looking, what sex they are, and, perhaps eventually, their age and facial expression. That technology might be used to conduct a demographic analysis of the audience at a rock concert or count the number of people waiting for an elevator on a particular floor to determine how many cars are needed there.

The most fun project: an interactive table called DiamondTouch, which allows several users sitting around it to use their fingertips to manipulate images – like maps or photographs – projected onto the surface. Your fingers become the mouse, and the table can tell the difference between your and those of a colleague sitting across the table. It feels like an entirely new way of working with information, which, the MERL magicians say, is exactly the point.

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Thursday, August 2, 2007

Dirty Little Secrets About VCs

After covering venture capitalists for about ten years, I've finally learned two things (I'm a slow learner):

    1. They need to hear about companies before their competition. (As a journalist, I can relate.)
    2. They compete fervently with other VCs to get their money into the best start-ups at the right valuation

Though they like to portray themselves as omniscient and omnipotent, they're actually quite anxious about missing the next big deal.

Blogging is still a new phenomenon among VCs here in Boston. (Jeff Bussgang at IDG Ventures has been at it the longest, as far as I can tell.)

One major purpose that blogging serves for the less-established VCs who do it is to raise their profile among entrepreneurs, to show entrepreneurs that they understand a particular space, that they are totally in sync. Older, more established VCs have a reputation, and entrepreneurs are magnetically pulled to them because of their track record, or because successful entrepreneurs make an introduction -- go see Mr. Greybeard, who's a partner at Established Venture Partners at the Bay Colony Center. They don't have to blog. (Yet.)

But the less-established VCs blog, and I suspect that is going to make them appealing to a new generation of not-yet-proven entrepreneurs with compelling ideas...and help them hear about these ideas first. On the West Coast, David Hornik of August Capital is the best example of a VC who has built his reputation atop his blog. Entrepreneurs know who he is.

I think the same is beginning to happen out here with the VC-bloggers (there's a list of them at right). The Rolodex and schmoozing and personal connections are still going to be important, but a blog is a great way to broadcast that you understand what's changing in the tech world -- both to entrepreneurs in New England and elsewhere.

What got me thinking about this was David Beisel's great post on "Seven Coming Digital Uber-trends which are Ripe for Startup Opportunities." This kind of stuff is flypaper for entrepreneurs; I know David's going to get e-mails from a bunch of start-ups saying, "Hey, I'm working on trend #2, can we set up a meeting?"

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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Solid lists of mobile and video start-ups around Boston

David Laubner runs the great local tech site 93 South. Two cool new postings there:

1. A list of video-related start-ups in the Boston area, including Brightcove, PermissionTV, Avid, and ExtendMedia. (David used to work at Gotuit, one of the video companies on this list.)

2. A list of mobile-oriented start-ups in the Boston area, which includes Enpocket, MobileLime, JumpTap, Skyhook Wireless, and the super-stealthy LocoMobile, funded by General Catalyst.

I think gaming is another area where there'slots of activity. Your next list, perhaps, David?

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Cool People Have iPhones

Since returning to Boston, I've run into three people with iPhones. First, David Rose of Ambient, then Tabblo founder Antonio Rodriguez, and last night, at the Best of Boston party, Plutomedia honcho Pat Mitchell, who paged through some beautiful images he'd created for a new magazine concept that I hope gets launched very soon. (Pat was the design genius behind Fast Company.)

None of these people say that the iPhone is very good as a phone, or an e-mail device, or as a Web access device when connected to AT&T's 0.005 G data network. But it's good for two things: surfing the Web when connected to a WiFi network, and showing off to jealous people who don't have an iPhone.

The iPhone is clearly the Rolex watch for techies.

I told Rodriguez that I couldn't believe that Apple had signed a five-year exclusive deal with AT&T, and predicted that sales will plateau: how many people really want to switch their wireless service to AT&T in order to own a status symbol? Rodriguez had an interesting prediction: Steve Jobs will figure out a way to do an end-run around that exclusive, perhaps by introducing a new or slightly different version of the phone that another carrier will be allowed to market.

(An update: Yonald Chery has one, too.)

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