Tuesday, November 30, 2010

iEvening Entrepreneurs Report

Brian Cohen, NY Angels · William Reinisch, Paladin Capital · Mike Segal, Joshua Capital · Joseph Daniels, Hodgson Russ
Moderated by Alan Brody

The long-running iEvening is one of the Tri-State's most valuable working events for Entrepreneurs and now, Execs - it helps Entrepreneurs shape their business models while looking for funding and Executives reinvent themselves while seeking opportunities.

Alan Brody at Workshop
Last Tuesday's event was hosted by the Fordham Business School at Lincoln Center. The Entrepreneur's Workshop, which has been running for over 10 years was recently expanded to accommodates executives - although the workshop has always attracted Execs seeking renewed career opportunities through Start-Ups, they were never formally part of the program. Now they are.

The Workshop
In the technique we pioneered for a Bloomberg TV segment, members of the group are invited to give their 30 second pitch. By using the dynamics of the group, we quickly discover what those pitches really do and don't say about the company or executive which leads to some great discoveries. Entrepreneurs learn what gives their ideas "curbside appeal" and execs learn how to pivot their business experience in the same way a Start-Ups has to keep looking for the right way to connect to its market and its investors.

One Start-Up founder, which struggled to explain himself succinctly happened to mention a much catchier second company called Wazzup - the group response made it clear where the opportunity really lies. Another Exec, who had been helping Start-Ups shape their pitch was shown by the group how the same techniques could also apply in everyday sales situations, opening the door to a new kind of consulting practice. Other Start-Ups found that while analogies are a great way to describe a new company, they have to be the right analogy or they could also be misleading. An Exec from a Start-Up that went public discovered that even though he did not cash out like the principals, just by being part of an IPO he can claim membership in the sacred group of the Serial Entrepreneur who IPO'd - thereby boosting his value. (More about the secret hierarchy or Start-Ups in my upcoming book....!)
Joe Daniels, Hodgson Russ & Paul Wegener

Deal Structure Workshop
After the Workshop, Joe Daniels of Hodgson Russ gave an illuminating presentation of deal structure and the clear value in seeking good counsel while going through the various stages of creating the Start-Up. The ability to raise capital, retain ownership value and share stock with employees are highly dependent on the quality of advice at this early stage.

Entrepreneur Pitches
The pitches included some very promising companies. The winner, who will go on to attend the Private Equity Forum at the Yale club was Caleb Gandara of TuitionCast - a metasearch site for higher educational programs.
The panel of judges which included Brian Cohen of New York Angels, Bill Reinisch of Paladin Capital and Mike Segal of Joshua Capital listened to the following plans and advised the companies to sharpen their focus in a variety of ways.

Mike Segal, Brian Cohen & Bill Reinisch
MergeSkills (www.mergeskills.com) was advised to focus their value proposition relative to competitors like LinkedIn, eLance and Guru.

Conexus (www.nq.com) which adds marketing intelligence needs to evolve their offerings to advertisers.
Traversive, (www.traversive.com) which enables IT departments in small to medium size businesses to shop for providers, the judges thought they needed to focus on a more specific market niche.

Risk-AI (www.risk-ai.com) provided risk analysis tools for the hedge fund industry but appeared too small of a niche for investors looking for a minimum 10x growth.

The Panel in Action
Remote Stylist (www.remotestylist.com) suffered from a similar judgment - although the market is big and they loved the founder, Kelly Fallis, the site appeared too manually service-oriented to scale - what investors call a "lifestyle business."

LEO (www.kryonsystems.com) a surprise entrant by an Israeli company that turns point and click tutoring into a saveable feature to be shared by other users. Investors leery about the training business but intrigued by the functionality.

So what is an Entrepreneur to do: fix it, pivot their model or constructively deconstruct? How about growing it themselves organically through sales an partnerships? These are the issues every entrepreneur faces and we hope the iEvening and its collaborative environment helps them make them make the right decision.

About the Speakers 
Entrepreneurs - photos by Seitu Oronde
Brian Cohen is Vice Chairman of New York Angels is an investment group of 61 members.
Joseph Daniels is the chair of the Hodgson Russ' Emerging Companies & Venture Capital Practice Group.
Bill Reinisch runs Paladin Capital's New York office.
Mike Segal heads Joshua Capital
Alan Brody pioneered the Business Model Discovery Workshop for Bloomberg TV

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Face of Opportunity Entry: Seasoned Execs pitch Start-Ups to be their CEOs

Face of Opportunity Entry: Seasoned Execs pitch Start-Ups to be their CEOs

Video Reports from Mobile Strategy - Apps vs. HTML5 and the Cloud

To really understand how Mobile is going to shape up read (or watch) between the lines.

HTML5 will kill Apps
Search is the Killer App
Mobile optimized sites will rule
We will live under the cloud (Next iBreakfast topic BTW)

Jesse Haines, Google Video

John Paris, TIme Inc. John Paris, Time video
David Gwozdz, Mojiva video

Kelvin Rowlette,  July Systems video

Alan Brody Comments, Q&A

Friday, October 8, 2010

Report: What's Your Mobile Strategy?

Mobile at the Heart of Transmedia – the new Convergence?
By Alan Brody 

The emerging term for the new convergence is Transmedia. It’s a great term for this Halloween month so we’ll go with it even though it is still an insider term – not quite at the tip of everyone’s tongue.

Transmedia does, however, raise the issue of vampire technology – the specter of digital media sucking the life out of print, TV and most other traditional media. And that’s why we love Google – they are not the ghouls here just, we hope, the white night.

According to Jesse Marmon Haines, who heads the ad marketing unit, smart mobile is growing so fast that, by 2013 it will outpace computer-based browsers. While the world loves iPhones, Google Android is already outpacing them and the search and adsense worlds will increasingly move to Mobile.

While we can’t say just how lucrative this will prove, we can see how different the experience is playing out on Mobile. For one thing, people use fewer words to search – on average of 3 on mobile vs. 5 on a computer. 1 in 4 searches are using the voice recognition feature – and those tend to be more comples. Ads that lure people on the move to your destination can make be worth a lot of money – perhaps more than online.

The beauty of smart phones is they have almost completely sidestepped the old stranglehold that phone companies had on “the deck” – so the Mobile ad business is exploding. That is why Google recently bought AdMob for a premium. They are signing up 200,000 users a day. Most importantly, websites need to be optimized for the Mobile if they are likely to promote instant action. For example, one of the most successful functions on Android optimized websites is the link to phone feature – click on the website’s phone number and Android starts ringing for. Directions are often offered too. It is only a matter of time before people start using the voice recognition feature to do a lot more than search – but as the dominant mobile interface.

The big news here is that Google wants to own the mobile browser – not just search – and you can be sure they will be focusing a lot of resources on that! Bill Gates, Firefox, Apple – your immortality is being challenged!

At Time Inc., John Paris, the Senior Strategist talked about the differences in Mobile users and the old vampire challenge: can Time still make money in a mostly free digital world using content from their old paid subscription world? Right now, they are a long a way from the “witching hour” because, as Paris puts it, people on the run don’t read the same way. “Mobile is article driven.” People are not looking to read the whole magazine.

Does this have the haunting strains of the digital music world where people stopped buying albums and began downloading one song at a time? Maybe – but for now, Time can monetize by keeping good metrics and still use the mobile experience to drive subscriptions to their print and other vehicles.

Not surprisingly, he mobile world is around 2/3 male and 1/3 female – but that is rapidly changing. What is more important is that men and women use Mobile slightly differently. No one seems to be sharing this information but my guess is that men are from Transylvania and women are from Twilight (ask your kids if you don’t get that.)

From Time Inc.’s perspective, the iPad is much more likely to be their growth vehicle and that market will move dramatically with Android-based pads, the much anticipated Dell Streak – but most of all, with the introduction of a smaller, lighter iPad probably one with a 7” screen.

David Gwozdz of Mojiva, whose company offers an ad network modeled somewhat on the original DoubleClick model, also sees Mobile eclipsing desktops in 2012 and Intel selling 150 million Atom-based netbooks. Kelvin Rowlette CEO of the systems integrator, July Systems talked about the successful project his company did with Fantasy Football. Most of the profitable Mobile projects he pointed out are based on sponsorships rather than ads.

Form the perspective of users, Media will simply follow them. The Mobile device is a lot like the baton orchestrating all of the media, it is your newspaper, your book, you DVR, your GPS, your friend summoning articles to and from the desktop or TV and other digital devices. As we are discovering, they are doing it in more ways than we ever imagined. The Mobile is transforming form the underdog of the digital world to the, well, werewolf gobbling up the old media laggards. Arooo.

TV Highlights will be coming soon!

Alan Brody on MSNBC TV - Affirmative Action for Small Business

Affirmative Action for Small Business - now there's an idea!

Scroll through to the second speaker and you'll see it in all it glory!

Alan Brody on MSNBC TV

Friday, July 30, 2010

Report from the July “Exploding eBook/iPad iBreakfast”

Ana Maria Allessi, VP Publisher, HarperMedia
Andy Weissberg, Managing Partner, Digital Publishing Partners
Anthony Antolino, Senior VP, Copia
Mike Shatzkin, Founder, Idea Logical Co.
David Steinberger, CEO, comiXology

The mix of exhilaration and trepidation that once swept through the music world may be shaking at the foundations of the once staid world of book publishing.

One thing that is clear the public seems to have taken to the iPad and to a lessr extent, eBooks with an enthusiasm that caught many visionaries off-guard.  Apple announced over 3 million units sold and Amazon reported they had sold more eBooks for the Kindle than print editions.

Yet many readers say they still love the feel of a book. So what do digital books bring to the table that are somehow different from a plain old print book? What exactly is the paradigm shift taking place and how will publishers, resellers and content creators react. Most of all, what will consumers pay for?

According to Dave Steinberger of Comixology, the big word coming out of ComicCon – where comic lovers coexist with digital commix and moviemakers – is Transmedia: Content exists across media. It also seems to help explain which media belongs where – some media like comics belong as static or as movies but not as moving comic pages and so on.

Certainly, according to the publishing futurist on our panel, Mike Shatzkin, of the Idea Logical Company, with digital books, everyone can be published and have instant distribution from their websites. This is a game changer for everyone! Mike was also recently quoted in the New York Times, pointing out that the surpassing of print by eBooks (on Amazon only, of course) was inevitable.

But who, said Andy Weissberg of Digital Publishing Partners, really knows because measurement at Amazon is not, pun intended, an open book. More importantly, if eBooks eliminate so many stages in the publishing process – like retailer and to some extent the old publishing houses, where do the big publishers fit in? Ana Maria Allessi, of HarperMedia talked about publishers as really being developers and marketers of authors. Which begs the question of whether publishers will start to look more like record labels that now have 360 degree deals with their artists so they now get a piece of their live appearances and merchandise sales.

The Transmedia paradigm shift is easy to understand in some areas but more complicated in others. A famous training author might generate profit with the application developed by the publisher to help deliver and test the readers (e.g. a voice coach whose iPad product can listen to the readers voice and judge it). In thrillers and romance novels the background details – like the extras in a DVD could be plus. Vook does this with supporting videos (the Slash book has Guns & Roses interviews and concerts). The best seller on the iPad right now, according to Shatzkin is Elements which give the viewer the full story with pictures and videos of all the elements on the periodic table. Is this an anomaly or simply the non-fictional romance novel of geekdom or is it more - a clue about 360 degree novels about the future?

It’s hard to tell – these are tantalizing clues to which you need to add the next element. As they say, if Henry Ford asked people what they wanted, it would have been a faster horse. The translation of that today, is a Mustang.

One of the interesting possibilities is that iPads and eBook devices will become portable book clubs simply by plugging into community. Why read your book alone? Why wait for the book club to meet?  As Antolino pointed out, you don’t buy what the best sellers tell you, you buy what your friends recommend.

The consensus is that the party is just getting started – if it is a party – but the full picture is only just emerging. The rules are only now being written and will probably be rewritten a few times too. This is an emerging world that is likely to change the publishing world forever, and with New York at its center it means that many more conversations are coming here before we get a true measure of the changes taking place.

To listen to the podcast click below. 
eBook/iPad iBreakfast Podcast Part 1
eBook/iPad iBreakfast Podcast Part 2

Click to take part of our survey.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What if Corporate America Actually GOT Word of Mouth & Social Media Marketing?

Plus - a few thoughts about Mad Men, Apple and some other exploits

By Alan Brody

As co-sponsors of Andy Sernovitz’s Word of Mouth Supergenius event on July 21, I finally get a chance to weigh in on a number of issues that have been weighing on me for a while

Social Media is hot, most players are making very little money out of it but it does provide low cost advertising if you don’t mind doing the work and more importantly, reinventing who you are. That’s the part that gets me and it really showed up at the Word of Mouth summit because WOM is about the idea and not the medium, which is what Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and all those social media are

The reason these media can be so annoying is because most people are using them poorly. It's as if the New York Times offered all comers free ads. The average person has nothing to say except "Hey I’m going to the beach and I love cotton candy.” Actual marketers go hey, we can do what we did for free and they find ways to spam you. Most realize they have to give something away, and so they organize games, offers and promotions – which is something they understand and that definitely works, but only for a while

Only the really smart understand they have to be something different That’s where the gurus kick in. Be lovable. Be outstanding. Be honorable. Be a cult. Be a linchpin and so on.

Now for the fun part. How many of these corporations could actually do that? How many popular products are remotely outstanding? Even if the conference attendees get it, imagine the conversation when they get back to the board room. You want us to what? We can get sued. We don’t want to talk to the consumers. We aren’t like that… B-school never trained us to give up control to the customer and so on

This leads me to Mad Men because, as a student in 50’s advertising research I can tell you that corporate America was similarly shook by a cultural shift when Madison Avenue was introduced to the unconscious It wound up with the kinds of odd interactions you see in Mad Men. Except there, the client just had to OK an ad and hold on. With WOM/Social Media, they actually have to change.

So here’s a quick breakdown of this cultural gap as evidenced with our Supergenius interactions

1.   Tony Hsieh and Zappos.  Use your customers as your advertising by indulging them – with the money you save on customer acquisition, you can afford to indulge them, thus attracting more customers True and Tony is an amazing exemplar of the CEO who lives and breathes his mission Hard to imagine BP following this (they should). One secret advantage about the shoe business – as my 50’s motivational researchers pointed out “To women don’t sell shoes, sell beautiful feet” In other words if you want to wrap your feet in a bargain you go to Payless but if you want to indulge your foot beauty fetish then the unique people at Zappos are there to oblige. And no one in their right mind asks their fetish master for a discount. Except Elliot Spitzer - and look what happened to him!

2.   Who really knows what they are doing? PR Exec talks about creating stories – that sell WOM is not just about telling stories – it's about telling stories that make you want to tell other people. That drives them toward an action that leads to becoming a customer of some kind. So my reasonable question is – you’re an agency, how do you test which story ideas will work. Answer: we don’t - if Henry Ford asked farmers they would have told him they wanted a faster horse. My answer is yes, and that horse is called a Mustang. Research is not the answer - it is guidance for your creativity.

      Gevalia reinvented itself in Social Media because its affiliate marketing program made it look like a spammer Many companies are probably viewing Social Media as a cheap ad or ethical spam machine. Gevalia did the right thing and got their customers in on the action – made them heroes, part of a club that even helped named their product. It also happens to be extraordinarily good, if expensive coffee. Now, could you imagine if Kraft or General Mills or Hormel went up that warm and fuzzy route. Wanna blog about Kraft American Cheese, PopTarts? Join their fan group. Read their labels?

4.   Culting of Brands.  Wiley was all over this conference with their Social Media Marketing Books so this is ground zero of who buys and arguably, reads these books. Flip the Funnel (spoil your existing customers and stop chasing for more and more prospects at their expense) or the Marketing Lessons of The Grateful Dead (acid sells!), Ignore Everyone Else and so on are read and paid attention to here. But imagine if you tried to turn Exxon into a cult. Or Chrysler. Or General Mills.

Steve Jobs and Apple come up a lot So here’s the memo: the word cult comes from the Latin “cultus deus” - the care and worship of gods. So unless you are willing to deal with life and death (most cult brands have come back from the dead, overcame some amazing obstacle or represent people who did - and don't forget the Grateful Dead) don’t waste your time. Settle for fickle fans. This way you go home at 5 and have the weekends with your families. PS there is no second coming for BP or Napster. But they can try.

5.   Be a linchpin.  Right – and get ready to lose your job. Companies hate irreplaceable people and if you are one, they will spend a lot of time thinking about how to replace you. Not only that, but you become a target for all the other company wannabes. Not that you shouldn’t strive for this but without the accompanying book on how to protect, conceal and generally keep the linchpin status in an unassailable spot, this is dangerous information. Ask Carolyn Kepcher, who looked too big for Donald Trump and so on. Usually, linchpins are hidden or look deceptively ordinary. And they definitely don’t give it away for art on the company’s dime. That would make them a lynch pin.

Look out for more on my Mad Men rant and advertising from the 50’s in my book and radio interviews on Cigarette Seduction (why does President Obama smoke Marlboro and why is he unlikely to quit until we exit Afghanistan) and other ideas you really hadn’t thought of lately

Next iBreakfast on July 28 – Exploding eBooks & iPad Market

If you are interested in the Word of Mouth/Social Media issue and how corporate America is really responding, tell us - and we'll have an iBreakfast.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Report from the June Agile Funding – Agile Hiring Event

By Alan Brody

Speakers: Ian Sigalow, Partner, Greycroft Partners, Stephen Brotman Managing Director, Greenhill & Co, Graham Lawlor, Founder, Ultralight Startups

As we continue our Job Generation series of matching senior execs to Start-Ups, we had the June event to take stock - from the VCs perspective. Our featured speakers, 2 active New York investors spilled the beans on the money side while our dean of agile Start-Ups kicked in with confessions from the entrepreneur side.

The result is an eye-opener - and if you are looking to boost your Start-up or work with one, pay attention.

1.    Very few companies get funded.

2.    Angel-funded companies still have to grow to the next level – there is a very small chance of a follow-on round if you do not grow dramatically

3.    Your best chance for breaking through is by building a savvy, connected team that includes some industry veterans. But you need to make it worth their while to come over to your side.

What we learned from the two VCs who do $500K - $2 million deals, is that you need to have high-growth potential in a rapidly growing marketplace in order to have a chance at funding. Then, the best way to get their attention is to have other people in the industry rave about you because word gets around in this community’s echo chamber. Getting a savvy player on board can help make the connection and will help you when they come calling.

The problem is that very few companies qualify for this kind of funding. Some get lucky and find an investor of one kind or another. This is not always to their ultimate benefit if they don’t use the money wisely and they don’t grow - but at least they have raised capital.

For everyone else, listen up, there are still plenty of opportunities. Some part of this is domain knowledge and experience – if you really know your business and you’re savvy, you will generally prevail. But a certain kind of faith and positive flexible vision is also key. Why - because you have to believe that you can prove yourself with whatever resources you have. Money is not everything. Too much of it can kill a company. Also, most start-ups find their real business or revenue opportunity down the road and it is usually starkly different from what they anticipated. So, being able to change direction to catch the right wind is key and investors have to feel comfortable that you will find that wind and adjust accordingly. Passionate amateurs tend not to do that.

Luckily for us, Ian Sigalow, a partner at Greycroft, LLC, Alan Patricof’s venture fund was on hand to break it down.

The single biggest thing he looks for is market size. If it’s not in the billions and growing rapidly, don’t bother. They need to make 10x within 5-10 years. In reality, they are searching for deals that are more likely to make them 100x. Seriously, is that you? If not how could you steer your enterprise toward that goal?

First, don’t be desperate. It takes at least 3 months to structure a deal usually longer. Your credibility is a huge issue. This is true even if you are the first to a huge new market. Who you are and what you bring to the table a big issues because if you fail to execute, there are so many others waiting in the wings to jump on your market.

That is one of the reasons that VC money tends to go to serial entrepreneurs. People who have done this before and succeeded are always preferred. They get the big bucks, the quick deals and even have the right to do a “me-too” company just because it is assumed they can execute.

If this is your first start-up you need help. You need to create buzz and then you need to have at lest two VCs looking at your deal to raise values and create a sense of closure. Otherwise, you wind up with meaningless phone calls, useless meetings and 90 day lockups. (Preferred no-shopping clause is 30 – 45 days)

VCs often refer promising companies to angels if they are pre-revenue and still working on their product development. That is usually a good thing. However, when VCs do their own Angel round that has its own special danger because unless you succeed spectacularly you are not likely to get follow on rounds from anyone other than the VC who may be even more disappointed than everyone else when you don’t beat projections.

[For the record:
Series A requires revenue and 3-4 customers
Series B 10 – 20 million valuation
Series C $100MM+]

Valuations – so here’s a big secret – go for a convertible note. Angels will ways try to hold you to a valuation. The lower the better. VCs on the other hand are more likely to prefer that you took a convertible note at a discount to the series “A” valuation – typically 25%. That means the company is more accurately valued and they know they are getting the best deal while you, the entrepreneur get to keep more of your company to sell to the VC. This is where find out how angelic your investors are – by whether or not they will accept the convertible note.

Know thy VC: do your homework. Know what kinds of companies they fund and why. Funds must be also be active – with the economic hiccups, many are walking dead.

Steve Brotman, the Managing Partner at Greenhill SAVP was quick to concur and we got to hear about his investments. Once again, your research is everything. VCs have areas of interest and their own theories of the marketplace. If you understand how they think you can determine who to go to and how to present your idea. Greenhill, and to a large extent, Greycroft, favors technology platforms that help automate services. Advertising can be transformed this way, so can financial products, even search engine optimization. If your product does something spectacular in those areas, and the market is getting B-I-G, they will probably want to hear from you. Or better yet, hear from a few of your credible fans.

What you need to know about VCs is that most exits are M&A driven at between $50 – 100 million. They want to see a minimum 10x and preferably 100x returns, so you can see how sharp the numbers have to be to get their interest. On the other hand, Steve spilled the beans on negotiating from the book “Hacking the Human Mind”: time pressure, lack of information and perceived opportunity can make otherwise intelligent people do strange things.

[For the record: Snapshot of Greenhill Investments
5 year old company growing faster than Twitter.
Medical metadata co. for testing.
Yellowjackets to consolidate IMs on trading floor.]

Graham Lawlor
Graham is the founder of Ultralight Startups which is a lively forum for the kinds of agile companies that are sprouting everywhere. Graham quotes the patron saint of the movement, Steve Blank whose book, “4 Steps to Epiphany” lays out the case for these companies. They key issue is that it doesn’t take much to start a company today, whereas ten years ago it cost plenty. Making them work is lot like using the steps taken by savvy corporation in a successful product roll out. The problem is that everyone seems to be starting a company because they can, and in the noise, some key issues are forgotten. The point about a successful roll out is having something customers seem to want and not just something you are able to make. So step one is having a minimum viable product. You learn from early adopters what they really want and pivot your development around their actual needs and desires of these people. Then you build your customer base with leases and marketing and then you build a company.

That’s the theory. In practice, the market throws a lot of curve balls and the interest of the early adopters may be very different from the later adopters. So being nimble and agile and listening to the market and also knowing when not to listen is a whole other issues.

Bottom line: anytime there seem to be a lot of buzz as a promising market emerges and you get people to talk about you, investors will come calling.

Start-Ups Presenting
Hal Charych has RFID automated gates for ski resorts. Generally seemed like it was a great idea but ought to be aimed at much broader markets. New York is not a ski investors market.

Alex Combos, EventNow. This site enables event planners to put their events out to bidding rather than having to go chasing after venues for pricing. Seems like a great idea but there are many big name like eVite that seem to be lurking in the wings.

James Mancuso, a former executive and CTO at Platform Computing Inc. a, Financial Services company in NY gave these Start-Ups helpful advice about growth and positioning.

COMING  JULY 28 – The Exploding eBook/iPad Marketplace

Friday, June 11, 2010

Cleantech Exec Comments on Westchester's Disaster Response

Disaster Recovery: Are We Too Focused on the Big Bang to See the Deadly Little Bangs?

Introducing The Falling Tree Syndrome: Electrical Internet, Houses with Crash Helmets and Trees with Seat Belts.

By Alan Brody

Last Sunday The Scarsdale Forum at the Scarsdale Women’s Club hosted a lecture on “Dealing with Local Disasters: What Can Nuclear and Pandemic Disaster Planning Teach Us?”-  a timely topic one would think, following the disastrous March storms.  The trouble is, you quickly realize that Indian Point has a way of dominating all disaster conversations to the point that we may be overlooking the clear and present mundane disasters that surround us: trees and power outages.

After 40 years, Indian Point remains controversial but no one seems to have died from it. Yet, in the March storm 7 people were killed by falling trees. Over 200 trees fell in Scarsdale and Greenburg, thousands of homes and businesses went days without power, dozens of streets and even schools were closed and downed power lines threatened lives.

Yet, the conversation returns to Indian Point where you quickly find that few people have any idea where to gather or where to hide in case of an emergency. Almost no one has emergency food or
Potassium iodide pills, the cheap, essential radiation protection. Is it possible that by worrying about the really big thing, a nuclear disaster, about which we feel we can do little, we see no reason to worry about the smaller, more pressing issues and so we wind up doing nothing at all?

Maybe, like the “broken window theory” in crime-fighting which was effective because clamping down on small outrages lead authorities to its larger sources, we should think of an equivalent “falling tree” philosophy. If we prevented the giant trees around us from falling on power lines in storms and lowered the vulnerability of the networks massive power disruptions our lives would improve significantly.
Houses with Crash Helmets - Trees with Seat Belts?

Trees don’t have to fall – or at least, not where we don’t want them to. Con Ed and the towns may prune trees or even clear-cut them around major transmission lines, but the remnants of the 200 fallen neighborhood trees show they have shallow root systems thanks to our rocky soil. Yet they tower over 60, 70, 80 feet leaving our power lines as vulnerable as our houses.

So why not think out of the box? My neighbor’s 65ft tree fell on his house but caused no damage t because of a large abutting arbor which cushioned the tree fall. Maybe this is the key to thinking of ways to protect houses from falling trees? Reinforced protection trim? Eaves with foam buffers. Rooftop airbags? A non-lightning conducting roof rim and tree catcher?

Half-timbered colonials may seem untouchable but once upon a time, so did cars without seat belts and footballers without armor. Injuries changed that – so why don’t we learn that lesson within the fragile sanctuaries of our own homes?

Could the trees be restrained? If you go to any circus, you will see acrobats hanging from threads – so why shouldn’t trees be similarly restrained by cheap, invisible non-conducting Kevlar-based materials. In some cases, they might use roof nets. In most cases, groups of trees could be networked, some harnessed others restrained. One day, we might be able to genetically shorten our trees, extend their roots or somehow anchor them in rock - but right now they are looming giants that threaten us with every storm.

Microgrids – Personal Energy and a Power Internet
Once a tree falls on a power line whole towns and even regions pay the price because the power grid is an interdependent and not very fault-tolerant mid 20th Century contraption. The obvious answer is to cordon it off into Microgrids that can provide their own energy outside of the Grid. These are ideal for downtown business districts, the town hall and schools but could also apply to whole neighborhoods. This would use a combination of Con Ed power and locally produced solar, wind, cogeneration, sound-baffled generators, fuel cell, clean natural gas or a new advanced technologies.

There are also major safety advantages because these Microgrids can use non-lethal DC transmission: streets will not be closed by downed lines and temporary workarounds are easy. The wires are smaller and therefore easier to hide or bury. They can generate their own energy during expensive peak hours while buying cheap off-peak power from the Grid. They also enable smart measuring, metering and powerbalancing appliances during peak periods – something that will only increase if we adopt battery-powered cars

When you consider the savings from tax credits the ability to create local energy (according to the U.S. Dept of Energy, as much as 9.5% of power is lost on AC transmission lines) and funds from the recovery budget Microgrids start to make economic sense. Most of all, there is a growing consensus that these represent the future of power and towns that don’t take advantage when they can will be left behind.

While we applaud the quick cleanup after the storm and the willingness to discuss the issues – the agenda has to move from the familiar and politically hardened debates to a realistic look at our immediate vulnerabilities and the rapidly evolving technologies that will transform our energy usage. Otherwise this storm will be a true disaster when it just might have been a blessing in disguise – one that opened the door to smart, safe and lower-cost green energy.

Alan Brody is an internet entrepreneur who recently graduated from the NYU-Poli Cleanech Execuive Program whose classmate Mathew Fairy and professor Mel Horwich assisted in developing these ideas.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Start-Ups and Execs – A Match Made in Heaven? Event with Columbia Business Club

 [Report from the Columbia Business School Alumni Club event at Duane Morris, LLP moderated and co-produced by Alan Brody of iBreakfast/iEvening.]

Chris Fralic, Partner, First Round Capital
Tom Bennett, co-founder, Pond5.com
Tommaso Trionfi of Lusyte
David Blumenstein, The Hatchery

In this challenged economy it would seem the obvious place for jobs growth is with Start-Ups. For an executives of a certain age and status, and for Start-Ups struggling to find their way, it would seem like a good match – good for the economy and job creation too.

As it turns out, it’s not that easy.

Start-Ups have long offered execs the opportunity to be on their advisory committees, but this is usually for stock and almost never for cash. Often, this appears to be for window dressing or networking - their advice not actually needed.

That changes when the execs are considered instrumental in raising money or are believed to have the “golden rolodex” for sales or business contacts. So, in the Start-Up world where advice is not that sought after, capital is key and payments are hardly made, why bother?

As it turns out, for execs who make the right relationships early, Start-Ups that succeed can scale quickly, according to Chris Fralic, a Partner at First Round Capital, whose largest portfolio company grew to 600 employees in less than 4 years.

According to Tommaso Trionfi of Lusyte, who helped a flailing Start-Up that had just 2 months of capital left raise $900,000, it took a modest investment and a restructuring of the company. Then the Start-Up went back to the same investors they had already approached and were able to raise an eye-popping amount for this economy.

One of the reasons expertise is less valued than plain cash is the relationships have to work – the chemistry can’t be piped in. With Tom Bennett, co-founder of Pond5, a start-up that got funding through the iBreakfast/iEvening Entrepreneur program, he worked with an experienced executive in the video business that first came on in an advisory capacity. Over time, the relationship thrived and Bennett went on to bring him on board as COO.

David Blumenstein of the Hatchery, which searches for deals among many Start-Ups, the issue is one of readiness for the entrepreneurial world. There is no support staff, you wear many hats and there is no 9-5. For many execs coming from the big corporation world, there is a step-down, re-education process.

Nevertheless, as start-ups grow, they need to get experienced executives on board. Either they choose for themselves, says Triomfi or the VCs will do it for them later. At least if they make the choice, they can find out if the chemistry works while the VCs may impose someone on them they don’t really like.

The VC view, according to Fralic, whose company is considered a “Superangel” - investing up to around $500,000 per deal - these issues are viewed on a case by case basis. Often, they prefer executives who grow within the company, where the chemistry is better and the cost of hiring may well be cheaper. But in any case, the re-education process has a few steps – some on the inside. Some on the outside.

Execs need to think small, be savvy and innovative. They can’t expect the same pay and have to take equity. Even advisors cannot expect the fat corporate fees. If they once got $350 an hour they will have to accept $50 and $75 and consider the rest an investment in the future of the company or their relationship with the VC. They will have to live, act and think cheap. Expense accounts barely apply and the work hours are not family friendly. The start- up will probably change course several times as it seeks its true market.

Finally, there is the issue of outward appearance. Experienced execs know they have to reinvent themselves for the new, fast-moving media and technology business world which is vastly different from the same world just 3 years ago. That can be daunting but, if done well, their experience still counts for a lot – for example, the former Polaroid exec who tells a Facebook photobook start-up what decades old research says about their true marketplace, and is right. Bbut they have to learn Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, iPhones, iPads. More importantly, they need to start flashing around these totems of the new workplace or they won’t even be considered.

Reinvent, talk tech, buy gadgets, start relationships, get hired …..

Next Job Generation iEvening: Agile Funding - June 23

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Report from Job Generation II - May 2010

Speakers:Will Porteous, General Partner, RRE Ventures
Paul Borgese, Digital Strategist, AP
Graham Lawlor, Ultra Light Start-Ups

Hosted by Alan Brody

[Job Generation is covered again on NY1.]
Job Generation II unfolded yesterday at Herrick, Feinstein, LLP on Park Ave. Now with a revised format and your host Alan Brody, back at the helm, this event moved at a quick pace showcasing new business ideas and interesting executive crossfire.
Job Gen is where Executives have the chance pitch Entrepreneurs with their ability to manage, rethink, grow, finance or otherwise get a Start-Up off the ground.
There is always a VC in residence - in this case Will Porteous of RRE Ventures - and a couple of sidekicks, Graham Lawlor, Founder of Ultralight Startups and Paul Borgese, a digital strategist with Associated Press.
This new format moves quickly with entrepreneurs not only being able to tell their story to the investment community but also to find out what a brain trust of savvy execs would make of their enterprises. For most of them it was invaluable advice.
How many Start-Ups understand the true value of their company? How many know how to position it or who to sell their services or products to. Our savvy group weighed in with enough good insight to improve their chances of growing their businesses and raising capital.
We began with a quick story from Tommaso Trionfi of Lusyte who helped a social media start-up, running out of money, to raise what today is an unheard of amount of money - close to $1 million - simply by spending time with them and reshaping their business plan.
On that note we moved into our presenters:
Bahar Gidwani of CSRhub.com was advised to become a kind of Moodies of socially responsible companies and consider bringing on a famous spokesperson in lieu of or as a way to raise money.
Paul Orlando of chatfe.com, a voice chat system, was advised to take the enterprise route - selling it to companies that need to call up for internal advice between employees.
Autoslash’s Jonathan Weinberg, a discount car rental booking service was advised to find a travel partner.
Dora Tarver’s e-projectmanager.com ran into some crossfire from execs who saw her as competing with the giant Project Manger’s Institute. But execs in the audience saw a difference picture and were encouraged by her 16,000 project manager subscribers worldwide. Adding a social media angle seemed like an obvious and potentially lucrative route.
ConeXus’s Hunter Cohen, a kind of behavioral targeting method by tracking social media relationships, was advised to find a media partner - no small task.
The executives on the panel voted the Most Valuable Players were:
Dan Cohen, as Chief Executive Officer, clearthink.com
Laura McCann Ramsey, as Chief Marketing Officer. Wsywygllc.com
Other participants included: Bill Reinisch, XIV River; Martha Lorini, Bill Simon and Paul Wegener, waveberg.com

Monday, April 12, 2010

What’s the Secret Sauce in an Out Sourced World?

Are you a linchpin or a munchkin? We have an answer…..and its management.

David Rose’s keynote at NY Entrepreneur's Week put the question of what is valuable in a "virtual business world?" Once upon a time, Ford Motor was a vertically integrated company with 100,000 employees in the Rouge River plant making everything it needed down to the actual paper in their car manuals. Same with Fleischmann’s yeast in Peekskill, NY. Nowadays, only a fool would operate that way when you can outsource everything, minimize your overhead and start a business on a dime.

Great, but then who holds value here? The Entrepreneur, of course – you can’t outsource Entrepreneurs, said Rose. You could feel the room swelling at the thought of being the economy’s new linchpin (as defined say, by guru Seth Godin). But then they heard that only about 1% of start-ups ever get funded and, in the virtual, cloud-y, outsourced age, they don’t get that much by way of valuations, thereby making them feel more like economic munchkins. 

Despite that, the investors all say the bet is not on the idea, it is really on you, the entrepreneur and your ability to execute. You are the real talent.

Its been my experience that anytime someone calls you a genius - or linchpin, for that matter - they are definitely not paying you, or they are paying you more compliments than cash. You may be a genius Mr. or Ms. Entrepreneur but not a rich one and not with a lot of equity to hold on to.

Still, the entrepreneurs hang on to every word hoping to hear where that check is coming from. And for how much! That is obviously the purpose of Entrepreneurs Week. But should it be, when in age of 8.4 million unemployed where the cheapest resource may be talent and not Angel VC dollars?

In the outsourced world, why do you even need all this investor money when you can get most of the development on your own dime with a credit card or two and some friends and family money? One answer is that many Start-Ups think of Investors as a kind of jackpot winning. The other is that they think investment translates into sales.

It does neither.

Even Rose complains that only 1 in 10 of his investments pan out.

The thing that matters, the secret behind the sauce and the thing no-one was talking about is the management. The entrepreneur may be like Dave Brubeck, but Dave (and I have seen him play) needs at least 3 really professional musicians to make his sound come alive. That’s management. He may be CEO of his jazz band but those players are not lackeys, they are key ingredients to his extraordinary success.

Yet management, better management never came up in the conversation. It was missed in a few other panels except fleetingly in the bootstrapping one which Scott Shuster managed so well…….

This may not be oversight so much as a belief that real start-ups can’t afford good management. How wrong are they! The country is full of great executive talent thrown out of the marketplace at the peak of their experience. They are available and yet no one even hinted at the possibility! Fortunately, as savvy souls in our own right, we at the iBreakfast can help!

So here’s a modest proposal, check out Job Generation, our new program that lets Entrepreneurs interview really savvy execs to find out how they would run their company for them. Get free advice and a wealth of powerful contacts. You may hire them, a VC might pay you to hire them or they may come on board with their own money. One of these execs we know raised $900,000 for a Social Media start-up by going to his former Wall Street colleagues. Try doing that at an Angel group!

Most importantly, it is management – a superior team of high-functioning execs that sell things which, in the old days, is how people used to make money. They can also raise your valuation dramatically, not just in dollar figures but in the termsheets themselves. Inexperienced start-ups get one kind of termsheet (lousy) savvy execs get the better one.

The real opportunity is like no other – thousands of savvy execs are waiting around to meet you. For now, and for now only. When the economy picks up you can pretty much forget about them, they won’t be taking your call. If they do, you won’t be able to afford them. Today they are like your server, a part of the cloud…..

So do yourself a favor, get those savvy execs on your side and then talk to the VCs. Not the other way around. The execs can make you the genius you really are because they benefit by increasing your value, the investors only care about improving their odds and downplaying your value. Sorry, but it's true.

So while everyone was hyping the cloud and open source and the low cost wisdom of the crowd, they forgot to tell you about the real talent that's available: the once-in-a-lifetime firesale of Harvard, Wharton, Columbia, Fordham, Kellog and you-name-it, MBA’s who like to share with you, a minute or two of their time. 

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Additional notes:  One audience member actually complained, in a long-winded way, that investors never give him enough time to hear his story.........

Monday, March 29, 2010

Job Generation - Report from 1st Live Event

Job Generation went live last week and it resulted in this amazing report on NY!

Thanks to all of you who followed this new event, Job Generation. There will be more and in many cities because the need is so all-encompassing: 8.4 million jobs lost, 2.1 million gone forever.

Our experience with the first live event is that executives realize the need to reinvent themselves. This is an ideal forum to make a case for their expertise in public where they can display how they think on their feet.
Start-Ups are less certain. As we discovered, many Start-Ups are leery about reaching out to veteran execs. Part of being a Start-Up is doing your own thing - until you need to raise money or just grow the business. That's where the savvy set kicks in.
In return for getting great advice and chance to acquire talent, the Start-Ups get to tell their story to the business community which increases their chances of raising capital and building their businesses. The sooner we get the message out the quicker we generate opportunity.
Investors, were also an interesting case study. The objective of JG is to find the exec and start -Up combination that offers the best increase in value. Of the executives they picked for working together, the VCs tended to go with the most thoughtful and analytical while being averse to the more outgoing and sales-y. Are the VCs right? Or do they just prefer the studious type on a personal level, perhaps viewing them as more "coachable".  
Come to the next Job Generation and you be the judge.
Thanks to the feedback, we've figured out how to tweak this model so it will really crackle with creative tension - we'll be doing several more events as iEvenings, at Business Schools and in other cities.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Job Generation - Like an Investor-in-Residence Program?

According to the New York Times, VC’s spend thousands on Investor-In-Residence programs. Job Generation makes it happen in front of you - and for a fraction of the price. By putting seasoned execs in front of Start-Ups to see what VCs think make them more investible we are doing much the same thing – but the for the benefit of the public.

Sign up for our first Job Gen iEvening event on March 18.

Monday, February 22, 2010

What is Job Generation?

Last week we taped the pilot of “Job Generation” and in March we will roll out our first live events.

So what is Job Generation? It is a variation on Start-Up Presentations to Investors except that we include senior executives seeking leadership positions in the conversation.

The bigger picture – the part that is creating the buzz - is that new business ideas tend to come from young start-ups with little capital and less experience. They are usually energized by real world interaction with savvy execs but are too busy chasing investors to do that.

This is a uniquely informative experience because it brings savvy executives into the conversation at an early stage. Too often these executives are chasing after the same entrenched jobs that everyone else is after - so by putting these two generations of business execs face to face along with VCs, we see a variety of possibilities will occurring: employment, consulting, joint ventures and investment.

More than a "Job Interview"
Job Generation is about about more than savvy execs being interviewed by young Entrepreneur about running their companies. It is telescoping the process than made companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft great - when they raised enough money they hired senior execs that took them to the top. We are starting the conversation now hat these execs are available as a way to increase their chances of raising money or building sales.

Polaroid goes Facebook - Lesson from the Job Generation Pilot

In the first Job Generation, a former exec from Polaroid – a great fallen American business presents to Pixable, a company that generates photobooks from Facebook – where he notes that although the technology is different, the customer base is almost exactly the same, young women. The Pixable founders agree and they want to hire this exec. The VC on the other hand, would prefer they hire an exec with operations experience. The net result is a blend of consulting and strategic rethinking and maybe a hire or a consulting opportunity…….

In this environment have seen roll-ups, consulting arrangement and joint ventures or alliances of one kind or another. After all, only a tiny number of start-ups are investible – somewhere between 2 – 10%. So, to a large extent this is an exploration of what happens to the rest of those start-ups. Often, these are concepts that need further sales or business development provided through a joint venture context. By taking this conversation beyond the purely start-up funding conversation, we allow many more business opportunities to flourish. When business grow through sales, investors find them!

Business Discovery

One thing we learn about what the CEOs bring to the table when they talk to Entrepreneurs is a deeper understanding of the true nature of their businesses. We also have VCs at the table to help the parties understand what each can do to increase the value proposition and make them more investible.

Starting in March we will be doing a regular series of Job Generation events. In addition, all iBreakfasts going forward will still have the typical informative content but will also feature this interaction between Start-Ups and experienced execs as part of the warm-up session.

The Theory Behind Job Generation: Raising the Investibility Quotient

For those who have experienced our “Hierarchy of Start-Ups” presentation, you’ll know the most investible class of start-ups, at lest in sheer numbers re those who have these key attributes:

• 10 Years or more of domain experience in a field

• Identify and industry-specific problem

• Have a team with the solution that the mother company doesn't value

• Have an existing relationship with the natural buyers

If this is you, your check is in the mail! Most start-ups aren't like this but we find that putting them together with savvy execs can get them much closer to this fundability zone - and that is the basic goal of Job Generation.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Unexpected Entrepreneur? A New Way to Understand Creating Your Own Business

Are you an "Unexpected Entrepreneur"? this popular presentation lists the "secret code" of Start-Ups http://slidesha.re/U12Ik

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Job Generation: The next phase of the iBreakfast

As you know the business world has changed!

After 14 years of running the iBreakfast, the iEvening for Innovators, the Web 2.0 NY Conferences and number of associated events, we are changing with it.

Our audience has always been those executives following the Digital Media revolution. Now, in this jobless recovery, what they need are more jobs.

We don’t believe the government or any state organization can make that happen, although they can certainly help. What really makes a difference is when entrepreneurs develop a new market or find news ways to solve persistent problems.

Often these great ideas needed help and our industry has generally viewed capital as the key driver.

We think that has changed. Today, start-ups can launch for a fraction of what they once required. On a relative basis, that means business expertise and contacts are worth more than start-up capital.

So the iBreakfast is launching a series of events and media initiatives to tap this shift. For the most part, they revolve around bringing seasoned execs in front of start-ups as a way to develop new business, employment and investor relationships. As we look back, these kinds of interaction have always taken place. Now, we are going to accelerate the process because we think it is the key to developing a new wave of employment opportunities.

So look out for announcements covering the following:

TV Show – will run to an audience of 50,000 on ours and partner websites
Local TV
Global Talk Weekly Radio Show
Job Generation Events
Business Opportunity Events

A Few Thoughts About Building Jobs and Innovation

Innovation grows when the government encourages people to buy into it. Not every new idea is an iPod or an iPhone. Most require taking risks and overcoming inertia. But like cash for clunkers – if you give people a good reason, they line up. Governments should be required to buy say 10% of new American technology and businesses should get tax incentives to do the same.

How else can you encourage innovation?

Let’s face it, if left to their own devices, most companies and government purchasers are afraid to buy new products. So, even when the government pumps money into innovations it may not really drive business: you may get new products and services but you don’t necessarily get buyers. Besides, sales cycles are slow and many innovators lack sales skills. So the inovation cycle is not completed the companies and fail and the money is wated.

At the end of the day, it is not enough to push technology – you also have to pull it by creating a buying incentive.

The most spectaculalry successful plan for boosting business was the cash for clunkers which gave people a clear incentive and moved cars off the the lots. Sales is is what drives innovation, everyithing else is more or less welfare.