Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dinner Discussion on Consumer Tech in Boston

Last Thursday night, I moderated a dinner discussion at Sandrine's in Harvard Square called "Consumer Tech in Boston...Stalking the Wily Consumer."

The goal was to bring together a group of entrepreneurs, execs, and designers who create consumer products (whether physical or digital), share some "best practices," and talk about what it takes to swim against the prevailing current here in Massachusetts (which, if you haven't noticed, is enterprise tech.) This was one of the occasional Nantucket Conference-related dinners held on the mainland; the private subterranean dining room at Sandrine's was packed with about 40 people.

Our speakers were:

    > Steve Krampf, Co-founder and CEO, Chestnut Hill Sound (creator of "George")
    > Antonio Rodriguez, Founder, Tabblo; General Manager, HP Publishing Services
    > Harry West, VP of Strategy and Innovation, Continuum; the firm has been involved in designing Reebok's pump sneaker, P&G's Swiffer, nTag's intelligent nametag, and OLPC's $100 Laptop
    > Carl Yankowski, CEO, Ambient Devices; former CEO of Palm Computing and President of Sony Electronics.

Among the topics we covered were market research...retailer/distributor loops...fundraising...the connection between hardware and software...and the merits of simplicity.

Chiming in from the audience, you'll hear Woody Benson of Prism VentureWorks, David Friend of Carbonite, and John Landry of Lead Dog Ventures (among others.)

The audio file is here in MP3 form. It's just under 50 minutes long...and there's lots of audible silverware clinking and wine drinking (so I'd recommend listening to it while you're chowing down.)

Antonio also posted some thoughts on the discussion on his blog.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tabblo Founder Antonio Rodriguez on East v. West

Antonio Rodriguez, the founder of Tabblo, gave a talk to the Stanford Alumni Club of New England today, which focused on the headwinds that consumer companies can sometimes face in our region. I didn't get to see it in person, but thankfully, Antonio has posted the notes of his talk on his blog.

An excerpt:

    The hardest part of embarking on a consumer Internet startup here in New England is finding wealthy veins of talent to mine out of big companies that provide relevant experience sets. From my non-technical entrepreneur friends I often hear about how hard it is to find class-A engineers that know "web stuff," and we ourselves at Tabblo had a very hard time finding good direct marketing talent that understood how factors like viral adoption could be weaved into a coherent user acquisition plan.

HP acquired Tabblo in March of this year, for an undisclosed sum. Matrix Partners backed the company.

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

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.)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Monday, July 23, 2007

Some reaction to Sunday's column

Sunday's Innovation Economy column was headlined, 'Will Boston ever catch up?' It begins:

    The explosion of consumer-oriented technologies, from YouTube to the iPhone, has been pushing the pistons of the technology economy for the past three years. That's great for California, and a real problem for Massachusetts, which has specialized in building technologies for corporate use since the mini-computer boom of the 1980s.

    "The legacy here is more enterprise-focused, all the way back to Wang and Digital and Prime and Apollo," says venture capitalist Todd Dagres, referring to a crop of computer makers long dead and buried. "That was where you wanted to be in the last millennium. It's just not where the real juice is right now."

    The juice, as Dagres puts it, is in all kinds of tech products for consumers, from new handheld devices and television set-top boxes to online videogames and so-called "social networking" tools like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, which allow people to connect and communicate with friends using free software.

    ...Having just boomeranged back to Cambridge after spending two years in San Francisco, the lack of consumer tech activity here is startling to me -- it's like going from a noisy, hot, crowded bar to another across the street where the bartender has plenty of time to wash glasses and gab with the three regulars perched on stools.

The folks at TripAdvisor e-mailed to note that they've had phenomenal consumer success with their Needham-based travel portal. I wrote about them in 2000 when they were just getting started and then again in 2004, when they were sold to Barry Diller's IAC. After raising just $4.5 milllion in VC money, the sale price was $200 million. Not bad. A spokesman says their profit margin is better than 50 percent, and that they're hiring like mad.

Matt Westover of Newton Peripherals e-mailed:

    Having been in technology for 20 + years and spending over 12 years on the West Coast, I think there are significant opportunities in the East. The mentality of the local VC’s are different in my opinion from the West Coast VC’s and can have corresponding positive/negative effect on the young companies. We have stayed away from accepting any venture capital to date.

Nabeel Hyatt, quoted in the piece, thinks I'm being overly dire.

And Antonio Rodriguez, a serial entrepreneur who recently sold the consumer-oriented Tabblo to HP, posted this response to the piece on his blog.

Labels: , , , , , , ,