Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Five Great Ideas from Today's IT Collaborative Event

There was a whole lot of tweeting going on this morning at the Massachusetts IT Collaborative event at Microsoft's NERD Center in Kendall Square... and the energy level at the event was really high.

One thing that was kind of depressing to me was listening to people like Steven Vinter of Google, Andy Ory of Acme Packet, and Emily Green of the Yankee Group try to sum up what had been discussed over a few hours in just five minutes when Gov. Patrick showed up to "listen." Vinter also showed an egregiously bad slide that tried to, I think, illustrate all the interconnects between various IT clusters in Massachusetts -- but it was one of those slides with an encyclopedia's worth of text on it, bubbles connected to bubbles, arrows everywhere. Rube Goldberg would have been proud, and I suspect it sent the message that the IT industry isn't so sharp when it comes to simplicity or clarity of message.

But there were lots of great ideas in circulation. Here are five that really resonated with me, and a quote I liked:

1. Michael Greeley of Flybridge Capital suggested that CEOs of larger, more successful companies ought to have "office hours" for younger, up-and-coming CEOs, much like college profs do. That could be a nice, low-commitment way of mentoring ... perhaps letting them commit one or two hours a month when they wouldn't have to leave their building. Many people at today's event focused on the issue of mentorship as a key to cultivating a new crop of big, important, sustainable companies here.

2. We need to make federal visa policy an important issue that everyone here in Massachusetts is engaged with. Part of what we do in the state is to make young people smarter. Why do we then allow them to be shipped back home, especially if they'd rather be working (or starting great companies) here? Akamai CEO Paul Sagan paraphrased Thomas Friedman, who has suggested that we staple a green card to every advanced degree we give out in the US.

3. Sagan also mentioned that you can walk or drive through Kendall Square and never know it is one of our region's hubs of innovation. (Perhaps even a denser concentration of smart people, research labs, and cool companies than anywhere in Silicon Valley.) But there are no signs to let you know what's there. If you drive down Highway 101 in California, in contrast, you see all kinds of evidence of the tech economy: Oracle, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, etc. The photo above is the blank sign at the front door to Google's Cambridge office, which perhaps 10,000 people pass by every day.

4. Connecting with students is a big challenge. Let's say you run a trade group and you want to make your annual conference open to students... or you want to organize an open house at your company to attract great students for a summer internship. There's no easy way to communicate with the student bodies of the hundreds of great schools around Massachusetts. I wonder how tough it would be to create a wiki that lists the contacts at every school's career office, and perhaps the e-mail addresses of the students who run the entrepreneurship/tech/business club on campus, and a few profs interested in helping be liaisons to industry. This wiki might also list tech companies willing to send speakers onto campuses for classes or club meetings, along with the relevant contact.

5. Tod Loofbourrow, founder of Authoria, had a great take during the session on communication... something that came up in last month's brainstorming session on how we can better communicate the innovative stuff that happens in our corner of the world. He said that pioneering work is being done here on healthcare IT, and making the healthcare more efficient, and that we should commit to saving the U.S. X number of dollars and X number of lives with our innovations. That got us all talking about how Massachusetts is focused not on tech-for-the-sake-of-tech, but technology that solves real problems... whether in healthcare, energy, business, or other spheres. That strikes me as really good positioning.

Finally, I liked Andy Ory's comment that we're still haunted by the ghost of Rout 128 past...and the ghost of California present...but what we really should be focused on is the ghost of Massachusetts' future.

What'd you hear that you liked? Did you post about the event? Feel free to add something in the comments...

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Gov. Patrick on Non-Compete Agreements in Massachusetts

I had the chance to chat with Governor Deval Patrick for a few minutes today at Microsoft's NERD Center, toward the end of the Innovate MassTech meeting (aka the IT Collaborative Study Group Meeting.) So I asked him about non-competes.

Paul Sagan, the CEO of Akamai, had just said on stage that he is in favor of keeping non-compete agreements legal and enforceable in Massachusetts, and that he'd seen no data that says that non-competes have any effect on making us less competitive. (The best data I've seen comes from this excellent paper written by three folks at Harvard Business School.) Another CEO told me he liked the fact that employees were more loyal (or less mobile) than in California, so you didn't have to worry about constant turnover here.

Yet at the event, I also spoke with a number of people who'd either been prevented from hiring someone they wanted to hire because of Massachusetts' stance on non-competes, or who knew first-hand of someone who'd been prevented from moving from one company to another.

I asked Gov. Patrick whether the non-compete issue had shown up on his radar screen, and he said it had -- he'd heard about it here in Massachusetts and on a recent trip to California. "I don't have a stake in the status quo," he said. He'd heard arguments from individuals who have been prevented from taking jobs because of non-competes, and also from executives who feel that keeping employees from jumping to other firms in their industry helps them stay competitive. "There's not a consensus view" of whether they're a positive or negative thing in Massachusetts, he said. I suggested that larger companies would love for non-competes continue to continue to be enforceable, while many small start-ups would like to get rid of them -- and that the bigger companies have more political throw weight. The governor didn't agree that things break down so neatly between big and small.

He seemed like he's still in listening mode, willing to be persuaded: "If there's consensus in the industry [as to whether they're a good or bad thing], I'm happy to support that."

And then he went off to be pounced upon by the rest of the media mob... (see pic above)

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Is Microsoft Embracing Its Inner NERD?

It couldn't have been a mistake that the acronym for Microsoft's new outpost on the banks of the River Charles, the New England Research and Development Center, turns out to be NERD. (Could it?)

But there was some debate at last month's Foo Camp East gathering about whether Microsoft was really going to officially embrace the NERD name for the facility.

Legendary techie, blogger and entrepreneur Dan Bricklin argued that NERD, or "NERD Center," is the perfect branding. "NERD Center sounds like nerve center," Bricklin told me today. "Because it's so geeky, it will get them so much more publicity." But Bricklin says he didn't yet see any signs that Microsoft officially likes the nerd word. (When you search on Google or MSN for "Microsoft NERD," among the things you get are this Mass High Tech story and this danah boyd interview on a Microsoft company blog.)

While NERD isn't anywhere on the official Microsoft Cambridge Web site, and hasn't been part of the company's local recruitment advertising that's all over the T in Cambridge, managing director Reed Sturtevant let me know in an e-mail this morning that "we do refer to the facility affectionately as NERD, so we were just mock-complaining with Dan Bricklin when he was using that at Foo." (Sturtevant runs Microsoft Startup Labs, one of three tenants in the Cambridge facility.)

We'll see, though, whether it becomes any sort of official designation. [Update: the photo is a t-shirt that Sturtevant sent to me on 4.7 to show that there's at least some MSFT employee swag that acknowledges NERD.]

As an aside, one of the really *great* things about the NERD Center is that they've been open to hosting lots of tech community events there. That's a lead that other companies ought to follow...

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One Arrives, One Leaves at General Catalyst

The *huge* news for General Catalyst this week is that Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is gonna do a stint at the Cambridge firm as an entrepreneur-in-residence.

But what hasn't been reported yet is that technologist-in-residence Charles Teague has just left the firm.

Teague is part of the Allaire Brothers mafia, having gone to college with Jeremy and J.J., and also worked at both Allaire Corp. and Onfolio, J.J.'s start-up that was snapped up by Microsoft. (Jeremy had served as a technologist-in-residence at GC before Teague, later going on to launch Brightcove.)

Teague won't talk about what he's up to post-GC, but I have a feeling it's iPhone-related. "I'm currently heads down on a project and I'm not quite ready to talk about it," he writes via e-mail. (General Catalyst also hasn't answered my inquiries about whether they're going to fund Teague's new venture.)

What's interesting about Teague is that, while still at GC, he and some friends created a free iPhone app for managing weight loss called Lose It. It's now the most popular app in the "Health and Fitness" category of the iPhone Store.

Not bad for a little side project...

Teague's blog, which has been very focused of late on iPhone apps, is here. So far as I know, he has never mentioned his involvement with Lose It or FitNow, Inc., the parent company set up to sell the app.

(In the photo, Teague is in the center, sandwiched between J.J. Allaire on the left and Sim Simeonov on the right.)

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On the events radar: Mass. Innovation Nights and Foo East

I hear that last night's Web Innovators Group meeting was mobbed... more than 1000 people. Kevin Kosh from CHEN PR has some coverage, including videos.

Two other things on my radar screen for March and April:

    Bobbie Carlton e-mailed this week to let me know she is starting a new demo night in Waltham that may or may not turn out to be similar to WebInno. (At the least, it'll start off by being smaller.) The first one is April 8th.


    O'Reilly and Microsoft are putting on Foo East later this month at Microsoft's new digs in Cambridge. I believe this is the first time O'Reilly has done a Foo Camp in Boston... and the participant list looks pretty prime.

And if you're not on the list for Foo East (I'm told it's over-booked), there are three totally open BarCamp "unconferences" coming up this spring:

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Big Tech Companies in New England: An Impossible Dream?

Last Sunday's column focuses (again) on New England's penchant for selling start-ups short rather than building what I call "pillar companies."

From the column:

    Maybe I'm a glass-half-empty sort. Maybe I refuse to acknowledge the reality of the financial markets, and the need for entrepreneurs to deliver a return for their investors within a reasonable time.

    But I can't help feeling that, whenever a New England company is sold to an out-of-state acquirer for big bucks, we've missed another chance to build a "pillar" company of our own.

    When Dell Inc. pays $1.4 billion in cash for New Hampshire's EqualLogic Inc. this year after the storage start-up had filed to go public, it feels as if we've missed the opportunity to cultivate another EMC Corp. in our backyard. When VeriSign Inc. buys m-Qube Inc., one of the pioneers of content delivery to cellphones, for $250 million, that's a potentially significant anchor tenant we've lost for the mobile software com munity here. When Microsoft Corp. buys Softricity Inc., that's a pioneer in application virtualization - delivering software over a network connection - no longer seen as a leading player in the field, and headquartered right here in Boston to boot.

The column includes a chart of some recent acquisitions by out-of-state buyers, and also a video from the recent Y Combinator "Demo Day," where fledgling start-ups show their stuff.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Inside the Cambridge Innovation Center

Rob Weisman had a great piece in yesterday's Globe Sunday Magazine about the role of the Cambridge Innovation Center in Boston's start-up economy... and the recent launch of Conduit Labs' LoudCrowd game. (Conduit is a tenant of CIC.)

Weisman writes:

    It is not a stretch to argue that while a company like Fidelity Investments may be the most important financial player this state has, a hospital like MGH may hold in its hands millions of medical miracles, and a university like Harvard may house some of the brightest young minds in the world, it's a building like the 17-floor One Broadway that holds in its small, cramped offices the future of the Commonwealth. Because if technology and innovation are the lifeblood for our future, then CIC is ground zero.

    That's saying a lot, considering it sits in the Kendall Square neighborhood next door to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (which owns the building) and its cutting-edge research labs. The square also includes a sizable chunk of America's biotechnology industry.

    But if the Boston area is going to produce its own Google or YouTube someday soon and restore its place as a high-tech hub on par with California's Silicon Valley, it's more likely to come bubbling out of One Broadway than any of the traditional technology geysers around town. That's because of the Cambridge Innovation Center, which is steeped in a culture of entrepreneurship. While earlier generations of hotshots gravitated to General Electric or IBM, today's are drawn to this high-tech group home, a Silicon Valley in miniature on seven floors.

He also focuses on the impact that nearby Google and Microsoft labs may have on CIC: will promising young smarties go there, instead of the risky start-ups housed at One Broadway?

The article made me a little nostalgic.... back in the Year 2000, I went to the launch party of what was then called Cambridge Incubator. I wrote about it in my old Globe column, @large. They gave out some sort of crystal paperweight as a party favor, which I've long since ditched.

    What's a "Liquid Launch Party"? David Sack, marketing director at the Cambridge Incubator, can't really explain it, except to declare that it most likely will not involve indoor Slip 'N Slide. Too bad.

    The Incubator is throwing the invitation-only launch party this Thursday to inaugurate its new office space in Kendall Square. It's got a full floor of the high-rise, which includes two studios for visiting artists, a small auditorium, and a nap room next to the server room.

    Sack wants to keep most of the details of the party secret, except to say that guests will be able to get a free massage, do some brainstorming, and see demos from four of the Incubators' "member companies" - BrandStamp, Etineraries, Veritas Medicine, and Alper Caglayan's intriguing-but-still-stealthy PeopleStreet.

    Though judging took longer than expected, the Incubator will also announce the winner of its Get .ORGanized competition for nonprofit Net businesses at the party.

    The three finalists are all wonderfully creative: Click-Up for Kids proposes rounding up online purchases to the nearest dollar, and donating the difference between that and the actual price to charity; Mathtastic uses sports statistics to teach math; and Secure Sponsorship helps people use their databases of contacts to get pledges (via credit card) for charitable events like walkathons. The winner gets $250,000 of Incubator financing and services

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Microsoft's Cambridge Lab: The Employee Directory

I like the thoroughness of this Xconomy post: publishing the roster of people working at Microsoft's new Cambridge research lab, from "founding members" like Butler Lampson to interns.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Today's Globe column: From IMO to EMO

Today's Globe column digs into the story of a start-up, IMO, that was once heralded as bringing a revolution to the way mobile phones are sold. IMO quietly disappeared earlier this year; its founder, Mort Rosenthal, is now building a new company (Enterprise Mobile -- which we might call EMO) with a big financial assist from Microsoft.

Here's the opening:

    Successful start-ups have 100 fathers, someone almost said. But flameouts are orphans.

    IMO was an idea that seemed to click from the start: bring together in one retail outlet a vast selection of mobile phones and service plans - and help consumers compare them.

    But after four years and about $10 million in funding, IMO quietly closed its two stores - in Framingham and Columbus, Ohio - earlier this year. No one issued a press release, and the company's name vanished from the website of its single backer, Highland Capital Partners of Lexington. Tom Stemberg, the founder of Staples, scrubbed the company's name from his bio. (He'd served on the board.) And IMO founder Mort Rosenthal moved on to a new business - this one supported by a $20 million allowance from Microsoft Corp.

Here's the video, in which Rosenthal talks about the difference between raising money from a VC firm (IMO was backed by Highland Capital) and a strategic investor like Microsoft:

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Behind Yahoo's $160M Acquisition of Maven: Maven CEO and Board Member Discuss

What do you ask for in February 2008, when you sell a company to Yahoo?

Cash, baby.

Yahoo paid $160 million for Cambridge-based Maven Networks -- almost all of it in greenbacks, not Yahoo stock. (Here's the AP story...and the official press release.)

"There's no way to arbitrage Yahoo's stock price when Microsoft may be buying them, or may not be buying them," says Woody Benson, managing general partner at Prism VentureWorks, which invested in Maven's most recent round of financing. (Yahoo rebuffed Microsoft's $44 billion purchase attempt on Saturday.)

Benson told me this morning that there was more than one company interested in owning Maven, but acknowledged that he was a bit anxious about whether the deal would go ahead once Microsoft started to make a run at Yahoo: "Anxious would be one word for it," he said.

Benson said that Maven and Yahoo signed a letter of intent around Thanksgiving, and that due diligence proceeded until Microsoft made its unsolicited offer to acquire Yahoo on February 1st. Benson says that the Microsoft offer didn't necessarily cause Yahoo execs to slow down or speed up the final negotiations in the Maven deal; I'd earlier speculated that it could hang in the air for a while. The final papers were signed on Sunday.

"There's a reason why they're buying us," Maven CEO Hilmi Ozquc said, when I suggested that Yahoo (and Microsoft) had missed the boat on the online video explosion. "The tech innovation has been happening at start-ups to date. But as the giants jump in, the fastest way to get there is through acquisition."

Ozguc and Benson both say that Yahoo's big advertising salesforce will help Maven vault ahead of other video players, like Brightcove (and perhaps even put it on an even footing with YouTube, which has been slow to integrate ads with videos.)

My last question for Ozguc was whether he'd be surprised if Microsoft now bought Brightcove: "I would not be surprised," he said. "But if they're going to buy Yahoo and get Maven for free, why?"

Update: Will Richmond has a longer Q&A with Ozguc on his site, Videonuze.

The NY Times Bits blog offers a critical take on the purchase...and here's the Globe coverage of the deal.

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

IDG's Jeff Bussgang on the Exit Window

I was wondering back in November about some of the things that could make the Web 2.0 investing bubble go 'pop.'

Jeff Bussgang at IDG Ventures looks at that question again, in light of a possible combination of Microsoft and Yahoo. What'll be the impact on venture-backed start-ups, which are more often bought than taken public?

(I have to wonder whether the Microsoft take-over offer is already stalling one possible Web 2.0 deal -- Yahoo's rumored acquisition of Maven Networks.)

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Monday, February 4, 2008

Microsoft's New Research Lab in Cambridge

Microsoft is adding a basic research group to its growing Cambridge, MA outpost, led by long-time company researcher Jennifer Tour Chayes, who will move out here from Redmond. Dr. Chayes' husband, Christian Borgs, will serve as deputy managing director of the new lab.

This lab is Microsoft's sixth; it's the first on the East Coast, and the first led by a woman. (Others are in Cambridge, England; Bangalore; Beijing; Mountain View, CA; and Redmond, WA.)

From the NY Times coverage:

    “Essentially every other industrial lab I know is shrinking, with the exception of Google,” Dr. Chayes said. Since she joined the company in 1997, she said, Microsoft Research has grown eightfold to 800 researchers who hold doctorates.

    ...Microsoft is adamant about retaining a pure research department reminiscent of the old Bell Laboratories, whose scientists were awarded six Nobel Prizes over the years.

    "Microsoft is probably the sole remaining corporate research lab that still values basic research," said Maria Klawe, a mathematician who is president of Harvey Mudd College.

The Globe says that the lab will open in July 2008 with 10 to 15 researchers from Redmond, and will grow "to at least 50 people." Reporter Rob Weisman says that "Microsoft soon will have nearly 800 employees in Massachusetts."

Microsoft offers a company-produced Q&A with Chayes and Borges:

    Chayes: If you look at where the computing experience is headed, where the online experience is headed, and where Microsoft’s business is headed, we should be developing expertise in economics so that we understand how people value things, in sociology so that we understand how people interact with one another, in psychology so that we understand what makes people do what they do, and all of this in the online context. If we’re going to help build the social networks of tomorrow, if we’re going to come up with new business models so that we can monetize them, if we are going to help to come up with productivity software so that people can collaborate online, we need to understand more about people: who they are, how they value things, and how they interact with each other.

Here's an article about Chayes and her work at Microsoft from 1998; she joined the company the prior year.

Finally, the official press release is here.

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Friday, February 1, 2008

Ray Ozzie's role in Microsoft's Yahoo offer

Bloomberg has a good piece explaining the role Ray Ozzie is playing in Microsoft's bid for Yahoo.

Ozzie, you'll remember, was running Groove Networks up in Beverly until 2005, when Microsoft bought him (whoops, his company) and made him one of its CTOs. He now fills Bill Gates' shoes as Microsoft's chief software architect.

From Crayton Harrison's piece:

    Ozzie, 52, plans to use the Internet to complement Microsoft's software for consumers and businesses, marrying programs with information available online. When Microsoft held a video conference for employees today about the Yahoo bid, it was Ozzie who explained how the companies' technologies would fit together, spokesman Bill Cox said.

    ``He really understands technology and where it's going,'' said Ken Allen, a portfolio manager at T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. in Baltimore, the fifth-biggest institutional holder of Microsoft shares.

Ozzie blogs (he was one of the first Boston tech execs to do so), but not very regularly.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Looking at Akamai's Competition

Talking to a well-known VC yesterday, the subject of Akamai came up... I suggested that they may be one of our region's new pillar companies; he argued that Akamai is facing scads of competition, and hasn't been as quick to develop new services, or buy rivals, as it should be. His view was that Akamai's moment in the sun may be a fleeting one.

My Globe colleague Hiawatha Bray has already been thinking about this topic; a story of his that ran yesterday was headlined, 'Akamai's Competition Grows in the Data Delivery Business.' It's worth a read. Here's an excerpt:

    ...the market has had a jaundiced view of Akamai for much of the year. Akamai's shares traded above $59 in February, but have slumped to around $35. Investors haven't taken much comfort in the company's solid financial performance.

    ..."Everybody's been piling into this space," said Melanie Posey, an industry analyst at IDC Corp. in New York. "A lot of the new companies, and also some of the network providers, are stepping up their efforts."

    Last December, Level 3 Communications Inc., a major Internet service provider, made its move into the space by purchasing the content delivery business of Savvis Inc. Limelight Networks Inc., a major Akamai rival with about 10 percent of the market, went public in June, and in August disclosed a major deal to deliver Internet music, video software, and games for Microsoft Corp.

    There are plenty of other smaller competitors, including Mirror Image Internet Inc. of Tewksbury, a privately held firm that entered the content delivery service in 1997, at about the same time as Akamai. Mirror Image handles streaming video for The New York Times Co., the Home Shopping Network, and a variety of local television stations in the United States.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tech Blogs Event Last Night

The 'Tech Blogs' gathering last night at Cambridge Innovation Center was a lot of fun, and the food was really good (thanks go to Schwartz PR, Morse Barnes-Brown & Pendleton, and CHEN PR for picking up the tab.)

Dan Bricklin has posted a podcast and some photos from the event. (Dan was also kind enough to bring the sound system.)

The panelists were all really thoughtful, and there were a number of bloggers in the audience, like David Laubner from 93South, Mike Feinstein from The Fein Line, and David Cancel. Paul Gillin was there, and posted some notes.

One thing we did which I think kept it from being a traditional panel was to weave in comments, questions, and rebuttals from the audience throughout the night -- from the very first question. Chuck Tanowitz from Schwartz played Phil Donohue, running around with a wireless mic.

Don Dodge from Microsoft was very funny, telling a story of how he was nearly fired for criticizing Microsoft's attorneys on his blog...and I challenged Nabeel Hyatt to talk about a post that he headlined "Idiots at NY Times write about virtual goods and miss the entire industry." Is that a good way to make friends with journalists? (He said he e-mailed the writer of the NY Times piece, but never heard back.) Listen to the podcast...

I hope to do more free events like this, where we get together to talk about some aspect of the Innovation Economy in New England. Your ideas are welcome...

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Peabody on Facebook

The buzz in the blogosphere today is about whether Microsoft or Google is about to make a big investment in Facebook, valuing the site somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 billion. The Wall Street Journal's Deal Journal blog looked to Bo Peabody (founder of Tripod, an early homepage-building site acquired by Lycos, and Village Ventures) for some perspective. A snippet:

    There are two ways to look at it. There is the purely financial decision, and the other is something different than that. If those guys were doing the risk-adjusted thing, financially they would sell. I just think that the market, if you look at the history of media, it is by nature a consolidating force. Typically things get consolidated. I don’t think that’s a great thing for consumers, but there is serious economy to ad sales. And they haven’t built a real ad sales organization. In order to do that it’s very expensive. Very expensive. Digital ad sales at the entry level are getting multiple six figure salaries. They have to think carefully about that.

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Microsoft in Cambridge: Will Real R&D Happen There?

Xconomy has two posts about Microsoft's hiring of Reed Sturtevant to run a new "development lab and innovation group" in Cambridge, where the software giant has leased about half of One Memorial Drive. (Xconomy also offers this professional biography of Sturtevant.)

I'm still yet to be convinced that any meaningful R&D or new product development will take place in this Cambridge facility. (Though it will be the headquarters for Microsoft's SoftGrid division -- the result of the company's acquisition of Boston-based Softricity.) Microsoft is an *incredibly* centralized company, and Redmond, WA is the center of everything.

Here's a snippet from a 2005 Globe column I wrote in the wake of Microsoft's acquisition of Groove Networks:

    ''Microsoft used to believe that development was a contact sport," says Francis deSouza, an entrepreneur who sold Flash Communications to Microsoft in 1998 but left in 2001 to start another company. ''You needed people bumping into each other. In Redmond, you wanted your entire development team in the same building. Ideally, they'd be on the same floor."

    DeSouza says that Microsoft is one of the last big technology companies to really commit to setting up product development centers outside of its headquarters.

    ''The next stage of their growth will require it," he says. ''And they'll have to work at it."

    The first big development center to coalesce outside of Redmond was Microsoft's campus in Silicon Valley, which now employs about 1,200 people and combines ''long view" technology research with shorter-term product development. Boston would be lucky to have a Microsoft site that approached Silicon Valley's significance.

    So what are the signs to watch for? First is how influential Ozzie becomes within the company.

    Second is whether we start seeing top Microsoft execs from Redmond visiting Boston more often. That includes Gates, Ballmer, Jeff Raikes, who runs the Information Worker business, and Steve Sinofsky, who runs the Office division.

    ''If you bump into any of those guys at Logan, that's a good sign," says deSouza.

    Third is whether Microsoft consolidates its three locations into a nascent Boston campus. The lease on Groove's headquarters in Beverly is up next year, and it would be smart if Microsoft brought its developers together with its sales, service, and support folks. Also, Beverly isn't exactly a spot that's attractive for a newly hired programming whiz out of MIT.

    Finally, it would be a good omen if Microsoft started recruiting some pure researchers to work at its local offices, and if the next start-up Microsoft acquires is allowed to stay put, rather than be shipped out to Redmond.

Two years later, a number of those things have started to happen. Now, I'll be looking for Microsoft to:

    1. Spread the word about some interesting/important projects being cultivated here in Cambridge.

    2. Open up its Cambridge building, as it does with its campus in Mountain View, to conferences and networking events, to really weave itself into the fabric of the tech community here.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

'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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