Friday, January 23, 2009

Y Combinator Decamps from Cambridge

I don't think there's a glass-half-full way to look at Paul Graham's announcement this week that his Y Combinator start-up program will now take place in Silicon Valley year-round, rather than alternating between Cambridge and Silicon Valley.

Graham is a prickly personality, and he hasn't always had the best relationship with investors here in Boston, but Y Combinator was a net positive for the area: it exposed energetic young entrepreneurs to Boston investors, and vice versa.... even if Graham was never a strong advocate to his entrepreneurs of remaining in Boston once they had completed the Y Combinator program.

Here are the toughest two sentences in Graham's announcement:

    Boston just doesn't have the startup culture that the Valley does. It has more startup culture than anywhere else, but the gap between number 1 and number 2 is huge; nothing makes that clearer than alternating between them.

That's not just his opinion... it's reality... and we ought to be addressing it head-on.

Some more coverage:

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

James Currier and 'Here Comes Another Bubble'

James Currier is an ex-Boston entrepreneur who now works in San Francisco, running Ooga Labs, after selling his last company to (I've written about James here and here.)

His singing group, the Richter Scales, made the excellent video below, "Here Comes Another Bubble," which was recently reposted to YouTub. The first version was yanked after a photographer complained that one of her images from Flickr was used without permission. (You can read about the controversy here.) The video really wonderfully captures the Valley zeitgeist of 2007.

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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.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Interview with George Zachary of Charles River Ventures

Charles River Ventures is a 37-year old venture capital firm headquartered in Waltham, MA. The firm has a west coast office in Silicon Valley, on the same street where all the big VC firms huddle: Sand Hill Road. And one of their portfolio companies, Netezza, just went public on Friday.

On June 28, I sat down with George Zachary, a partner who works in the firm's Silicon Valley office. Many of his investments, like GoTV and Areae, are consumer-oriented Internet plays -- the topic of my first "Innovation Economy" column this Sunday. Here's a video excerpt from our conversation -- followed by a list of five things Boston could do to help foster more consumer-oriented tech companies.

Five Things Boston Could Do to Encourage More Consumer-Oriented Tech Activity

1. Fly a banner over the Bay Colony Center in Waltham (home to most of New England's VC firms) that says, "Stop investing in the tried-and-true 50-year old alumni of DEC, Wang, and Lotus." VCs need to stop equating experience in the world of enterprise technology with bankability.

2. More people interested in consumer-oriented concepts ought to know about and attend gatherings like Web Innovators Group, OpenCoffee, Mobile Mondays, and tastybytes -- and start events of their own.

3. We need more blogs about consumer tech and Web 2.0, located all around New England.

4. We need more visibility from the few execs here with consumer experience -- they need to serve as poster children. Jeff Taylor, founder of (and now of Eons), already does a great job of this. Bob Davis, back when he was CEO of Lycos and when Lycos was a standalone company, did well, too. And I never thought I'd sing this, but "Where have you gone, David Wetherell?"

(Avid Technology has a number of consumer products...but its recently-departed CEO, David Krall, lived on the west coast (even though the firm is headquartered in Tewksbury.) Privately-held Bose Corp. is a big consumer tech player, but its founder, Amar Bose, doesn't often show up anywhere other than Framingham -- and doesn't allow any of the company's younger execs to do much speaking or schmoozing at local tech events.)

5. We need to stop taking ourselves so seriously. Not all technology needs to solve a business problem or address a pain point.

James Currier, the founder of Tickle, told me a great story this week. His company was founded in Cambridge, and later moved to San Francisco. He raised $9 million in funding, and later sold the company, which focuses on online tests and quizzes, to for $100 million. Here's what he said:

    We started Emode [Tickle's original name] seriously. We had tests about depression and anxiety, which had been vetted by the American Psychological Association. But no one cared. The APA thought we were doing it right, and the people at Harvard respected it, but it wasn’t until we launched totally superficial quizzes like "what breed of dog are you?" and "who is your celebrity match?" that the site took off. It was totally flippant. But we had gotten to the point where we were off salary and about to go out of business. So we said, "What the hell, let’s try this. Maybe people will respond to fun." And they did.

Currier's new venture is called Ooga Labs -- and it is working on several start-up ideas simultaneously (the sort of thing people used to call an incubator). His first new site is GoodTree.

"Business in Boston is professional and trustworthy," Currier says. "People are deep technologists, and when it comes to building a new kind of networking switch, that's great. But all this digital media or consumer Internet stuff tends to be more creative and optimistic. You have to believe that people are going to want to do all this crazy stuff online."

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