Move over #SoMoLo … it’s time for #SoMoLoClo

After some frustrating searching for SoMoLo, I think the earliest reference I could find is in 2010. Keys-by-Tearn claims to have coined the term in 2009, but I cannot find verification for that online. (A prize will be given for the earliest verifiable mention found in 2010 or earlier and posted to the comments by end of year.)

SoMoLo is a contraction for “Social, Mobile, Local” and was coined and is current because of the confluence of Social Networks, Mobile Devices and Local (or Location based) intelligence driving new forms of consumer behavior. We use Facebook to tell friends what we have bought (and follow their recommendations). We use our smartphones to check for better prices than what we see in the store in front of us, and we check for other local stores that are open and have the item in stock. This term is a catchy one because it captures and points to marketing strategies being adopted in many segments where smartphone users are a desirable demographic. Search for SoMoLo on twitter and see what people are saying.

Before SoMoLo has really caught on outside the cognoscenti, let me elbow it aside and introduce SoMoLoClo – for social, mobile, local, cloud. This is more of a techies term, which I first noticed should be introduced last month, and tweeted about it for the first time last week when David Skok presented a great overview of the current Application Development landscape at a MassTLC event. He brought the use of cloud computing into sharp focus as an innovation driver alongside the SoMoLo facets. SoMoLoClo might not be a nifty marketing strategy that everyone understands, but by adding ready-to-run, on-demand, sophisticated capabilities based in the cloud to SoMoLo architectures, you get a very powerful technical platform. Kinvey, from the Techstars Boston class of 2011, is a great example of how a cloud capability can turn an merely interesting app, into something much more multi-dimensional.

So goodbye SoMoLo, hello SoMoLoClo! And remember, you read about it here first!

You know you’re not a startup if…

Guest Post by Sean Lindsay

[When asked by BostInno to define what makes a startup, Sean Lindsay (@rseanlindsay), cofounder and CTO of Sigma company Viximo, and founder of Founder Mentors, came up with the following (published originally here). More ideas welcome in the comments!]

I started brainstorming over lunch with the guys at Viximo and conceived this Jeff Foxworthy style “you might (not) be a startup” idea.  Here’s what we came up with.

  • If failure of a major effort no longer risks the survival of the company, you’re probably not a startup
  • If your founders aren’t full-access Facebook friends with every employee, you’re probably not a startup
  • If you have published “hours of operation”, you’re probably not a startup
  • If you’re buying up other revenue generating companies, you’re probably not a startup
  • If employees have to hide outside projects and interests from their boss, you’re probably not a startup
  • If you have more than 100 employees and are hiring, you’re probably not a startup
  • If you have a satellite office that is an actual office (not just a guy), you’re probably not a startup
  • If you have a believable revenue plan that demonstrates profitability, you’re probably not a startup
  • Unless every employee in your organization knows they can personally move the needle any given day, you’re probably not a startup

Starting from a blank canvas

I have recently been reading the books and online literature about business models. Business model canvas, startup canvas, lean canvas, running lean? Blank, Osterwalder & Pigneur, Cooper & Vlaskovits, Fitzpatrick, Maurya? (And although I don’t think Steve Blank’s “Four Steps” initially posited the use of a canvas by that name, I hope he and you forgive the pun in the title.)
So which canvas is right for what? Where to start? I set out to discover this, and found that it is non-trivial to untangle which came first and what influenced what. Publication dates of the books help, as does searching for references among the authors. I created this map of influences as I understand them, and I invite comments (or via twitter @rdale) on how I can improve it by adding or editing.

Relevant web resources are:
For those interested in purchasing the books, here are the Amazon links (Running Lean is only available from Maurya’s site for now).

Rebecca Dale

Rebecca Dale, dear lovely, loving and loved wife of my broken-hearted brother Andy, and mother of their two wonderful children, died early Saturday morning.

This time last week I arrived in Berkeley, CA to support my brother Andy and his two children. It was the birthday of Rebecca, Andy's wife of 17 years. In the early hours of Saturday morning, Rebecca passed peacefully and gently from this world, lying in her bed at home, with her family present, after what she called her ten year dance with cancer.
Rebecca's funeral was on Tuesday. Her car was there (worth a peek).

Rebecca taught us all how to live better, to love better, to give everything, to giggle harder, to listen better, to die without fear.

Goodbye Rebecca: Love, Love.

All the Bad Things VCs want to do to You!

At the MassTLC Innovation UnConference in October 2009 I got a nod from Scott Kirsner, technology columnist from the Boston Globe, who included my session as one of the five best session titles.

The session is titled “All the Bad Things VCs want to do to You!”. In it I talk about many of the principles behind Venture Capital investment terms, and do so starting with the most negative view. This provides a jumping off point that the entrepreneurs can relate to (who doesn’t love to hate “vulture capitalists”?), and makes it compelling (or at least amusing). The session allows me to get into the core idea that no-one should take a VC investment unless the the deal on the table is still compelling relative to what you give up (time, ownership, control … and more!).

Back in 2009 the session went very well. At the end, one of the participants introduced himself as a lawyer working with start-ups and told me he had come to the session to make sure I really was going to be honest about VC behavior. He confirmed, indeed, I was.

Since then I have repeated the session in various incubator, business school and conference settings. Each session is different, based on the questions and interests of the audience, although I always start with the same theme: “VCs just want four things from you: your ideas, your time, lots of ownership in your company and control!”

My most recent presentation was at MassChallenge, a large scale accelerator program for start-ups here in Boston. The session seemed to go well … if you are interested, you can see the video of the last half-hour of Q&A.

If you would like me to present “All the Bad Things VCs want to do to You!” at your event or program just let me know.

The Fog of Entrepreneurship

As I have quoted before, Paul Gompers of HBS succinctly notes that management is the optimization of resources and entrepreneurship is the optimization of opportunity. Optimizing resources is tough enough, and you can generally count your resources. Optimizing opportunity is fraught with uncertainty, starting with characterizing (let alone quantifying) what the opportunity really is. Entrepreneurship, and startup investing, operates in a field of uncertainty, often massive uncertainty.

Many others have written about how to manage that uncertainty, and I can say, with certainty, that even the good articles do not reduce uncertainty. At best they clarify that any decision is better than none, and send you out to test hypotheses, find failure through controlled experimentation and generally do more faster.

I don’t think I am adding deeply to the field of uncertainty studies with this posting, but here are a couple of interesting quotes and my own comments.

I can’t find the source of the quote “confusion is a prelude to clarity” (though you can buy the t-shirt), but it brings to mind the most unlikely seeker of uncertainty, Alfred Sloan. Sloan was the legendary CEO of General Motors and is credited with being one of the fathers of modern management. When chairing a board meeting in which an important issue was being discussed, Sloan said “Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agree­ment on the decision here . . . Then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.” (Note: sources differ on the exact wording.)

Another great quote, which I hesitate to admit I first read in a Tom Clancy book, is “no plan survives contact with the enemy” (Helmuth von Moltke). I prefer the variant “no plan survives contact with the enemy and no battle was won without a plan.”

The conclusions are unsurprising for those in the startup world, but intriguing coming from regimented management practitioners and military minds: embrace and seek uncertainty, expect uncertainty, prepare for uncertainty.

Five years of cycling, and related thoughts on heaven and hell

Five years ago (July 3, 2006) I picked up my then new bike from Scott Chamberlain’s caring hands at Belmont Wheelworks and started on my cycling adventure, whence this blog was also born. The next day, on July 4, I went out for my first solo ride.

Yesterday I rode with my good friend Lee on our regular 44 mile route to Concord and back. It was a fitting fifth anniversary ride, showing how far I have come from my first ride of a couple of miles at an average speed of probably 8mph, to 44 miles at an average (moving) speed of closer to 14mph. Yes, I could be faster still, and could be riding more regularly and further, but that’s for another blog post. Today I am enjoying the accomplishment and the joy that cycling has brought into my life (to say nothing of the leg strength and cardio fitness).

Over the last few months while cycling I have had fun thinking about cyclists’ heaven and hell and this anniversary is as fitting time as any to share them.

Heaven: a great recumbent bike that doesn’t strain my neck, shoulders, arms, back (or sit me on parts of my body not meant for sitting)
Hell: an upright (sorry, friends!)

Heaven: a great 44 mile route through quiet country roads
Hell: the same route with weekday traffic

Heaven: a 44 mile (Escher) route that is down hill all the way back to the beginning
Hell: the same route up hill

Heaven: a 44 mile (Escher) route that is down hill all the way
Hell: the same route on a fixed gear bike

Heaven: a 44 mile (Escher) route that is down hill all the way with just the right amount of road curvature back and forth to enjoy the G-forces
Hell: the same route, with low light and no visibility around the corners, so you are forever worried about potholes or the possibility some truck will come roaring up the hill straight into you

Other ideas for heaven and hell pairings welcome.

Why Google should buy RIM

Google should buy RIM, makers of Blackberry smart phones, and this is why.

Everyone who uses Blackberry phones loves the physical form factor, especially the keyboard, and this means the phones are great for email. The famous security adds to this, and makes enterprises and even governments happy (or unhappy, if they like eavesdropping). People also love BBM (Blackberry Messaging service).

However, that's it. Everyone hates the Blackberry browser, the other apps, the integration etc. In my view (and not only in my view I think) RIM is on a slow decline, despite their new tablet and touchscreen phones.

Google is looking to extend its platform to everywhere. Put the two together, and you have a great combination.

Google could get the patent portfolio to allow them to use (or better, out-license) that great keyboard, instead of the crappy one on, say, the Motorola Droid slide-outs. Google could even choose to spin off the hardware altogether to a handset manufacturer (HTC?), to reap the benefits of getting Android onto the platform but avoid competing with their channel.

Google could leverage the intense loyalty of BBM across it's entire messaging line, adding to Gmail chat, etc. Google could add the great enterprise security that Blackberry has. The BB phones would probably enhance the relationships Google has with the mobile carriers, although I am not sure how important that really is. Google would be able to put Android on the BB platform which would make current BB phone users very, very happy.

That's it... Any comments?

Update: Check out a TechCrunch post that points in this same direction (or certainly points out BBM is in for a steeper decline), punchline New BBM feature: f**ked.

Scoring those 100 points

A few weeks ago I talked about raising an investment for your startup in terms of finding a way to score 100 points with investors in a game with no fixed scoring.

Since then I was pointed towards a great article on Quora, worth reading, on How to Communicate Traction to Investors. Getting this right is certainly a key foundation to point scoring.

Happy fundraising!

Inside a CEO’s drawers

Generally it’s a worry when an investor wants to look over the CEO’s shoulder, calling and emailing all the time: “how’s it going?”, “did you close any sales this week?”, “what’s the status of the top 25 product bugs?” This is known as getting in your CEO’s pants, meaning being so close as to be very uncomfortable and a little inappropriate (and, heaven forbid, nothing more than that).

Sometimes, however, there is a moment when getting in a CEO’s drawers is quite illuminating, and by drawers I mean office furniture … not clothing!


Take a look at this picture I took of the contents of the top drawer of a well-respected startup CEO in the Boston area. What does it teach us about the life of a CEO?

  • Antacid – largest and most obvious item … hmmm, stressful job?
  • Altoids and Orbit Gum – keep that breath fresh while talking, talking, talking to customers, employees, investors, partners.
  • USB cable – “tech credentials”.
  • Painkillers – THREE kinds! – hmmm, stress gives you headaches?
  • Energizer batteries – I hope this CEO is not taking this “high energy” food kick to extremes.
  • Pens – for when the PC fails and you need to write down that number.
  • Tissues – allergies, or so much stress a good cry can sometimes help?
  • Lubriderm – perhaps those vulture capitalists sometimes look like alligators.

Smartphone Feature Request

You are talking on your smartphone and your friend asks you for someone’s phone number.

“Hold on,” you say, “I’ll give it to you.”

Then the fun starts. You take the phone from your ear, poke around to find the number, and even though it is only 10 digits you worry you can’t remember all of it in one go. So you go into what I call head-banging mode. You put your phone back to your ear, say the area code, look again for the next three digits and say those … then your friend starts to read back the first digits or misses them … you get the picture. It takes four tries to get the number across and you still aren’t sure they got it right (but they’ll call back if they need to).

Here’s my feature request … a button on the contact page “transmit number in text-to-speech” or even “transmit number by SMS”.

Replay the situation. “Hold on,” you say, “I’ll give it to you.” Now, when you find that number, you just click that button and it speaks the number (maybe twice) or sends the text with the name and specific number. Done. No head-banging.

Android team, are you listening?

Cyclists’ no fly zone

I had another great bike ride with friends on Sunday morning. I noticed that the little flying insects are out along various marshy and low lying parts of our route.

After one short pit stop I was glad to get over 5mph so the flies could not keep up. I soon found myself on a sweeping downhill and building speed nicely. However, I noticed at those speeds I was getting hit in the face by the flies I had been swatting away when still (no windshield on most bikes apart from rare exceptions).

I realized I had experienced both ends of the no fly zone: below 5mph the flies buzz around in their annoying fashion, and above 20mph they can’t get out of my way in time (hint, keep mouth shut at speed!).

Cyclists “no fly” zone: 5-20mph.

Walking through closed doors

Now this would be a neat trick, if anyone could really do it:


If you were expecting something deep and meaningful, perhaps about entrepreneurs finding ways to make their startup successful in the face of too many closed doors, well, I’m sorry.

How to score an investment for your startup

There is one timeless question in the world of early stage investing: What does it take to get an investment from a VC firm, or for that matter from a seed or angel investor?

The answer is that you need to score 100 points to get an investor to write a check. The same goes for all kinds of investors: VC's, angels and seed investors – it’s the same 100 point game.

How do you score those 100 points? Well by different kinds of scoring plays… and like a touchdown vs a field goal vs a safety, different plays score different points. (With apologies to my non-US readers for the references to American Football; you should all know that I recently became an American citizen and it is now unconstitutional for me to use cricket metaphors. If I were to risk such a thing we are looking at singles, fours and sixes.)

Usually the plays investors are looking for include a great team, previous successes, excited customers (or prospects), good IP, big market, great product vision, market urgency, etc...

The NFL changes the rules each year, but in the investment game it is worse still. Every investor scores these plays differently and some give you points for things others will not, and each investor scores differently from day to day depending on anything from market conditions, recent portfolio events or what they ate for breakfast. On some days, you get points for the sun shining (good mood), or lose them for the same reason (wish I was at the beach). Perhaps this is the source of the entrepreneurs’ lament: “VCs have deep pockets, but short arms!”

Although you can score 100 points with just one or two things, investors prefer that the points cover multiple facets. Betting everything on the team and the idea means much more scrutiny of both those than if you also had customers, developed product, well known large, growing market, etc.

Point scoring is at best highly variable, and I am sure feels pretty random … those investors sure love to move the goal line. One day an investor will tell you that you need more customers, and when you finally get more customers they tell you the market isn’t big enough. Next day you get lucky and the Wall Street Journal writes about the huge market and the investor wants to dig in to your product source code. Can you ever win those coveted 100 points? And what about the startup with a bad market, no product, no customers and a $9 million investment? How did they score those 100 points? Did they win them at the 15th hole over a wager in a sand trap? Who knows, but they scored 100 points somehow!

The variability in scoring points is what allows you to raise money at all. If all investors were rational and used the same (magical) methodology, only the very few really big deals would get funding at all. Investors would fight tooth and nail to get into those, and nothing else would score point one, or dollar one.

Some observations on why point scoring may be tough… If your start-up requires 15 software engineers, 2 years and $8 million to get to market you will find it harder to score points (although Sigma regularly invests in those kinds of deals). If investors like to invest locally and you are located more than 40 miles away, you will find it harder to score points. If you are in a market with notable failures and no recent successes you will find it harder to score points. If you are making hardware you will find it harder to score points than if you are making software (unless the investor is a hardware nut, in which case, reverse that).

One more thing – you can lose points, too – for example, through incurable inexperience, or perceived arrogance (yes, I know, pretty ironic comment coming from a VC). You should be passionate (+) without being too promotional (-); you should be decisive and show leadership (+) without rejecting all suggestions, coaching and mentoring (-); your projections should show fast growth (+) without showing 80% net margins after 3 years (-).

Smaller investments at the angel and seed stage are similar to VC investments. It’s still 100 points to win, but it is much easier to score those points, because the amount of capital at risk is smaller. For these investors the game is played for a higher risk-reward ratio because they have an even wider portfolio spread (10’s of investments a year, not the 1-2 investments per partner at the multi-million dollar VC level). You could argue that it’s the same scoring rigor, but fewer points needed to win – but point scoring is so random, and 100 is such a nice round number, I prefer to imagine you just score them more easily at the seed stage.

This is not a familiar model to investors (at least not yet – more retweets, please!) … so you can’t ask “how do I score my 100 points round here?” And, as I mentioned, the point scoring one day will change completely the next. So, how do you turn this to your advantage when you are raising money?

Try to identify the universal point scorers in your startup and look for ways to strengthen and leverage them. Take a cold, hard look at the elements of the pitch which don’t resonate, which people seem to ignore during Q&A, and work out if they are helping or hindering. Where are you gaining points, and where are you losing them? Don’t blame the investors for being stupid (though we may be), or capricious (though we are) – such blame becomes bitter one-liners on The Funded. This is the game you have to play, and you need 100 points to win. Don’t blame yourself either – at least not yet – just get back in the game and work at scoring more points.

At best, this provides is a model which describes (but, by definition and unhelpfully, doesn’t predict) investor behavior. In the spirit of “all models are wrong, but some are useful” (George Box) this model doesn’t change the dynamics of raising money,  but perhaps it gives you one more way to score a point or two.

The Pace of Change

Things have happened so fast going from zero to global wired and wireless internet in such a short time, haven’t they? (Netscape IPO, August 1995). The music industry has been experiencing its death throes over the last short while, too, right? (iTunes Store opened April 2003). Smart phones took over the world in no time at all, as well, didn't you notice? (Blackberry released 1999, iPhone January 2007 - that’s four years!)

You get my point. We all think, and in many ways quite justifiably, that all this new tech has taken over our lives in no time at all. However, really it has taken several, or even many, years.

In the venture capital world we observe that things always take both longer and shorter than we expect (or experience in retrospect). It has taken forever to get a self-driving car, and recently we have seen the DARPA Grand Challenge and the Google car, both of which are really only concepts. A few high end cars now “park themselves”, but self-driving hasn’t really happen yet. When it does it will feel like it happened overnight. (And as I type this I hear a commercial for the very affordable Ford Focus which now has this self parking feature… that was fast!)

I have been blogging sporadically about the approach of the $1,000 Genome (bringing the marginal cost of sequencing an entire human genome down to below that price). That phrase itself ($1,000 genome) is a few years old already, and the Human Genome Project itself was first completed about a decade ago. Although we are getting close to large labs bringing the cost down to the magic number, the real revolution will be instruments in your doctor’s office accomplishing this, on-demand. That is not yet on the horizon, and it will take longer than we think based on recent progress, but when it happens it will also feel like it was overnight and will accelerate major changes in healthcare very quickly.

Green technology adoption cycles have the same contradictory feel about them, despite complex concerns about investments from VC firms in the field.

Synthesizing all these examples brings us back to this realization that technology driven shifts really do take longer and shorter than we think. The very fast moving Location Based Services arena (think FourSquare) may not change much for a few years now as the market catches its breath and works out where the impacts are most meaningful. In the end, our experience of feeling this burst on us very quickly will be tempered by the reality that it will have taken a while to settle.

We, as investors, can take comfort from this because the windows of opportunity are longer than we fear. This is tempered by concern about placing bets too early or committing to spending on ramping up sales efforts before the markets are really ready.

Biking Season, Blogging Season

Today marks the beginning of the 2011 biking season for me. I am looking forward to a 20+ mile ride a little later today.

It has been a few weeks since my last blog post, and given that my biking and blogging have been intertwined since the beginning, it is fitting for me to show up here again as well. (Look at the name of the blog!)

Next weekend is Purim, the Jewish holiday where kids (and adults) get dressed up … so spare a thought to parents of the celebrity obsessed.

Microsoft Word Document 3132011 82017 AM

A brief history of Dale

My 11 year old son is doing a family history project at school and has written up the story of our family name. Each project also requires some art/visual component as well as the written work. If you ask me, this is more than sufficient for the entire project.


Although no family members ever used the name Isdale, there was a family business that used that name, which is what prompted the name change from Israel to Dale.