Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ideas and Attention:

It used to be about getting your "15 minutes of fame"

Now it seems like its all about making your point in "30 seconds of attention"

I found a great site called Presentation Zen. Very useful for site design, presentations, video, etc.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Messaging: Part II Community Around Communication

In Part I, I talked about the nature of our symbolic communication. And the origins of our messaging. Well, there is also a set of communication that imparts feedback and context to a communication and to a conversation.

This set of communication is the sense that others are involved with us in real time in the communication. Some startups are addressing this opportunity through embeddable widgets. That's probably why MyBlogLog is rumored to be in talks with Yahoo to be acquired.

Right now, the web and blogs and social media feel somewhat asynchronous. There's real opportunity on making the experience a shared social experience. Right now, most blog/social media experiences for users, just like you reading this right now, give the user a somewhat alone experience.

In our effort to expand out of connected aloneness, its important to do that. The current experience is like going to a concert or sporting event and watching the stage but looking at it through a straw with barriers that shut out the other audience. You know there's other people around but you can't sense them.

Take a look at this recent video. Which is quite funny! And notice the effect of the "laughtrack" on its effect on your experience.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Messaging: Part I Communication and Language

I've been thinking about the nature of the internet and communications. I've got a lot of stuff to post. But I am going to break it down into a series of posts. This is my first in a multi-part series on messaging and humans.

Part I Communication and Language

When I was an undergrad at MIT, I had a "humanities" minor in computational linguistics. It was really interesting. Noam Chomsky led the thinking about linguistics at MIT. Noam's ideas about linguistics and politics seem to be uncorrelated. But they are one in the same. Another thought leader in communications, Jaron Lanier, was my boss at VPL Research, where he coined the term virtual reality. I had lots of interesting discussions over years with Jaron about symbolic communication.

Basically, symbolic communication has to do with the observation that all spoken and written language are composed of symbols. Symbols that represent the physical, visceral, conceptual and emotional human experiences. These experiences have components that tend to repeat and be shared across humans. We share these components by physically producing them as sounds and written words. In effect, these words and language as symbolic communication are a form of a lossy compression algorithm. That's right. This post. You talking to a friend. Language is just a lossy compression algorithm to represent these experiences.

Human culture has driven lots of microcultures. Each with their own language. Each with their own lossy compression algorithm. Over time, languages are subject to Darwinian competition, just like physical organisms. Just like companies in a capitalistic society. Capitalism has spread English as the business dominant language. It's basically the dominant protocol/format for the algorithm.

How did this start? First, as humans we used sounds which were probably composed of 1 or 2 sounds. Basic sounds to represent basic experiences. These sounds were probably utterances that we used to communicate with our tribe members. And they were short in order to get the point across and not be confused. Over time, syllables and phonemes were added to these utterances to build longer words and more narrow experiences. Perhaps narrow experiences shared by a subset of people.

And then with the advent of writing and print, written language took off.

Why are the most popular website domain names a few syllables? Probably because they are easy to remember. And communicate. Just like those early utterances.

So, in essence all of our written and spoken language is a sequence of symbols. Like the ones you are reading right this instance. And you can now see that language is basically a lossy compression algorithm for communicating experiences. Maybe that's why it is so easy to misunderstand what people say. And why its so powerful to have the internet now. Because our symbolic communication can be shared with 6 billion humans.

Thinking of langauge has also helped me see that distinct terminology can be used almost like codewords to identify who is in your tribe. And who isn't. Maybe that's why its so important to certain groups of people to make their members speak like they do. And enforce the correct usage of those symbols. Basically, language is being used as code for group formation of individuals. And to identify with a group. And to identify who is in the group. And who isn't. New groups need new codewords so that the members feel distinct and part of a new self-contained group. These new groups form from the burgeoning need of humans to continue to form identity and differentiate from each other. This leads to the constant creation of new words. New slang. New terms. Forever.

Everyone has had the experience of hearing a word that they are not used to. And wondering what it is. A lot of people call that slang. A lot of people call that terminology. And then when you hear an explanation of what that term or slang means, its a pretty simple concept that was just symbolically compressed into that word, which sounds like a codeword for a group that you don't know.

So, language as a lossy compression algorithm to share experiences. Language as a code to build "tribes."

In my next post, I'll write about how language has been used in different hubs over the millenia. And how we are at the biggest change in communication since we first started speaking to one another in our own local tribe.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

CRV QuickStart: Clarity on What it is

My firm Charles River Ventures announced yesterday a program to help entrepreneurs get a cool idea off the ground called QuickStart.

There's been a tremendously positive reaction. We also noticed that there was some confusion about what it is. So let me clear things up a bit.

1) What is QuickStart?
QuickStart is a seed funding program whereby CRV will invest $250K in a promising new startup in the form of a loan to the starutp.

2) What kind of a loan is it? And who is the loan to?
The loan is a convertible note made to the entrepreneur's company. It is unsecured debt. If the company goes out of business, the entrepreneur is not personally liable in any way. The purpose of the loan is to get the entrepreneur up and running and proving out their concept quickly

3) Why is it a loan?
Well, because entrepreneurs started asking us for their seed funding to be a loan. The advantage of the loan is that it allows the entrepreneur to keep the entire equity of the company for themselves as they prove out their concept. There is no equity dilution for taking the loan.

It is also a simple 2 page loan that is easy to understand. And it is fast. There is no need to go out and convince and negotiate the "valuation" of the company for the entrepreneur. This allows for the entrepreneur to quickly get operating and prove out the concept in a stealthy way.

4) If the entrepreneur wanted the seed funding of QuickStart to be seed equity instead of seed loan could they do that with CRV?

YES, totally up to the entrepreneur. We are just offering another option.

5)Why is CRV doing this?
Because entrepreneurs kept asking us for this and we realized the whole startup funding market was entering a new long term trend. A trend where with $250K an entrepreneur could build out and prove a concept.

We believe that there is heightened experimentation on the part of entrepreneurs and we want to support as broad a landscape of entrepreneurship in these projects that are "capital light." We realize that QuickStart could be viewed as disruptive to the business model of seed equity angel investors who traditionally ask entrepreneurs to dilute their stock during the seed phase. We didn't set out on purpose to disrupt anyone's business model. All we are doing is moving in the direction of the entrepreneurs' needs to get concepts out and tested quickly in a way that is palatable to the entrepreneur.

6) If this is so great for entrepreneurs, what is the benefit to CRV? In exchange for giving $250K as a loan to the company what does CRV get?
Very simply, CRV gets the right to participate equally with other equity investors IF and WHEN the entrepreneur decides they want to raise a Series A equity round.

7) Assuming the entrepreneur accepts the $250K QuickStart convertible loan, what are their obligations to CRV?
The obligation is a right for CRV to participate in the first EQUITY round (Series A) with other investors on an equal basis. On our website, we state that we have a right to participate in 50% of the Series A equity round. Frankly, we said that as most Series A investments have 2 venture firms as investors. And we'd like to be 1 of the 2. Thus 50% of the Series A round. But if the entrepreneur wants more than 2 firms, all we are asking for is the right to participate equally with other investors in that first Series A.

8) Who controls the size, timing, valuation, etc. of the Series A equity round? The entrepreneur does. CRV claims no right at all here. We believe that the entrepreneur has the right to go to the free market and suggest the size of Series A they want to raise. At the time they want to raise it. At the valuation they are seeking. From whatever investors they want.

9) Will CRV help me in raising Series A?
If the entrepreneur asks us to, we are happy to introduce the company to quality investors that we know and trust.

10) Why is CRV charging interest on the loan?
Because we have to per IRS rules regarding loans. We have ZERO desire to operate as a bank. We are not in business to make money directly on these loans. Our hope is that the company does super well and we can convert the loan into equity. And participate in the growth of the company. That's what we'd like to do.

11) What is the "discount" on the seed loan mean?
The discount is a discount on the conversion price of the seed loan. That discount would get applied only if and when an equity round is raised. And the discount is only applied to the seed loan portion ($250K) of the future series A equity round. The example on QuickStart shows an example of this. It is definitely not interest and does not get paid out if a Series A equity round is never raised.

11) What happens if the company never raises a Series A and is acquired before raising equity?
That's ok with us. We ask that the loan be paid back at the time of acquisition.

12) Can the entrepreneur include other investors in the seed round?

Yes. We are happy to include other investors in the seed round if the entrepreneur wants to include them. We aren't doing this to block other investors out. We are doing this to participate in new, really exciting concepts that are sprouting all over. So if inclined, other investors including angel investors can join in the seed round if the entrepreneur wants.

13) Will CRV continue their traditional venture investing?
Yes. All we are doing is extending our offering to cover the new reality and new marketplace.

The benefit to CRV is that CRV will get to participate in a lot of really exciting startups in a way that is good for CRV and good for the entrepreneur at the same time. We are just evolving and changing with what the market needs and wants. That's why we are doing this!