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.

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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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