Founder Institute Switzerland – Application Deadline

I was at a bootcamp event for the Founder Institute the other week. The event was held in the Swisscom Brain Gym, a cool part of the office in Bern where they’ve created a sort of creativity friendly place with living rooms like you might find in a Swisscom customer residence. There’s also a fine collection of phones on display, including a giant brick mobile phone. I thought Google Zurich has cool offices with their sofa made of tennis balls (and it is cool), but the Brain Gym is really a step above the Google model that people always drool over. Google feels like another planet, the Brain Gym is feels like a comfortable living room, but almost from another planet. A designer tennis ball sofa is cool, know what’s cooler? A whole wall made of tennis balls.


So what is it? The Founder Institute is a startup incubator organization coming out of Silicon Valley with the purpose of spreading entrepreunerialship to people like me, young professionals who like the flexibility of starting up a company but need some direction. Essentially you develop your company from the early idea stage with FI and are mentored by fantastic start folks to help you along your way and scale your great concept.

The Offer

The institute offers mentorship from partners and helps you form your team and shows you how to execute. In return you provide a 3.5% warrant on your company that you found, and everyone from the institute (including yourself) benefits from the growth and prosperity of the other companies that are founded. In this way it’s not about competing with your classmates, it’s about everyone having a vested interested in each company succeeding. I love this concept, and it makes a bit more sense to me at the moment than just going to school for an MBA. I like to learn by doing and I have enough degrees at the moment.

So here’s the deal, the Institute needs a certain number of applications to start the thing in May. If you’re interested in joining or just interested in this being possible, then please apply. The goal is close to being met, but if it’s not done by this Sunday it won’t go forward. The best part of the application is writing about why you want to join. I ended up quoting both Malcolm X and Hunter S. Thompson in my application, and now that I think about, I’m applying because I want to impact and hack the future instead of just passing through the present. Will you join me on this journey?

Apply to Founder Institute Switzerland

Arrrrrr, I Joined the Pirates

Be brave, be crazy, be a Pirate! How can a person logically say no to that? Startup Pirates is an organization coming out of Portugal, a movement to change the world. I’m easily impressionable and have been looking for a startup event to be a part of, and I met one of the organizers at Ignite Zurich. So, when they advertised the next plundering campaign in Lisbon in February, I figured I would be crazy not to apply to be a part of it. Here’s the description for the pirate website,

More than a company, a project or a non-profit, Startup Pirates is a Movement.

We want to spread an entrepreneurship culture around the world and show that it’s possible to build a company right after college or even during a college degree. For us, age, genre, location or professional status aren’t obstacles but opportunities to create companies and change the World. There are many ways to change the world and we at Startup Pirates picked entrepreneurship as the way to do it. ?Our goal is to create one-week startup schools around the world. By making the perfect match between the academic world and the entrepreneurship environment, we want to bring together the latest discoveries done in terms of business models, marketing management, Human resources management and the latest achievements in the technological field. We believe this mix is the secret sauce to make startups successful.

So, join us at Startup Pirates, give us feedback, organize your own startup school, with our help or be an attendee at one of the upcoming events. ?

Why Be a Pirate?

Over the last year I’ve been in a sort of erratic learning and thinking stage. I took a class to understand the professional art world (focused on Zurich), launched a video poetry collaboration with DJCue in Atlanta, and have been doing a lot of background reading/learning on mobile user experience, HTML5, augmented reality, 2D/3D game design, and animation, and some topics in big data. A recent mind vacation in Berlin has brought a lot of things into perspective, and I’m ready from a vision and knowledge standpoint to launch something. What is this thing?

Well, I have a number of ideas on technologies and social topics I would like to translate into a startup. I spend my lunches outlining and diagramming mobile app ideas, everything from an AR graffiti program (Defend Kreuzberg) to app/sensor combinations to aid patient recovery post surgery to helping artists understand the context of their place in the world. I firmly believe that events like Startup Pirates Lisboa are the places to get things off the ground. When I went to 1 Day of Art Copenhagen I little idea of what to expect, but put faith in the future and I ended up creating some cool paintings and realizing my artist identity. Heading to Lisbon for a week to a startup bootcamp and building something with the people I meet there is the way to do things. You go with an open mind, work your ass off, and good things will happen.

Want to be a Pirate?

Web Monday Zurich #21

It was a fine summer Zurich night, and I was heading back to the Web Monday Zurich gathering to check out what was happening at our wonderful host, Interxion. There were many events worth noting during this Monday, but the main points include Interxion, 42 Matters, Restorm, and above and beyond customer support by a Googler.


Eddy van den Broeck presented Interxtion, a data center in Glattbrugg in Zurich, and the host of this 21st Web Monday Zurich. I had a little trouble finding the Interxion building, but it’s probably a little hard to find because it’s better that way for the security of their business. Interxion is a data center. A large data center. In fact, a very large data center in the center of Europe. I never really appreciated the data center business until this presentation. Interxion sells secure reliable data space. A simple idea executed with high precision and reliability. The scope of their operation is huge, and these types of centers will be the backbone of our digital future (actually they’re already pretty integral to everything). Politicians keep harping on cyber security and the next big war, but I’m guessing that in the future if you really want to fight a war with someone you won’t care about their military bases or missile silos, you’ll just target their data centers with tunneling cluster bombs in an effort to cut the beast off at its head (this part about wars and beasts and decapitation with cluster bombs is my own fantasy – not part of the Interxion presentation).

Interxtion is located in the very near vicinity of the Zurich airport. I didn’t realize this was relevant information, but I’m sometimes slow comprehending the world around me. Why near the airport and why in Switzerland? Power, fiber optics, customers, political stability, connectivity. All things a giant information storage space needs to be successful. As we do more and more on the net we tend to forget that big data needs to be somewhere…physical. Even the cloud has be a cloud somewhere, it’s not just a fanciful collection of Smurfs shuffling your data between magic mushroom fields and your iPad or Asus Transformer – and there are many real-world factors that need to be in place. For example, Interxion uses more power than the Zurich airport and yet are CO2 neutral. The mechanical engineer in me found this absolutely fascinating. I actually chose my latest internet service provider iMountain largely because they run their operation on solar power, and I like to support Green. Interxtion offers this choice to their customers as well, allowing and promoting the use of alternative energy sources for customers, for example, wind power sources for energy consumption instead of nuclear. Why Switzerland? Best power grid in Europe, politically stable, in the center of everything – makes sense to me (I can list these same reasons for choosing to live and work in der Schwiez myself).

In closing Eddy spoke about the drive to create a Silicon Valley inspired innovation culture in the Zurich area – code named: The Zurich IT Valley. This is a theme people are often talking about, but implementation is always a question. Swiss startup folks visit places like San Francisco and them come back with tales of how awesome it is over there and how things need to change in the Zurich area. However, Silicon Valley wasn’t built by purpose (at least there was no city planning blue-print, even Apple doesn’t have a central campus yet), it was an organic evolution of the innovation society, probably dating all the way back to the atomic bomb. There are real grass-roots movements in the Zurich area like Web Monday, Mobile Monday, Web Tuesday and The Hub, where the locals meet and organically develop communities that define a healthy environment for startups and innovation culture. The Zurich IT Valley sounds like a more structured approach, let’s see what the next five years will bring.

42 Matters

The first startup presentation was by Andrea about – the first app offering from a new startup out of ETH Zurich called 42 Matters. The name of the company is self-explanatory if you’ve read the till the end of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and it not then it doesn’t matter. I mean, the relevance of the name, not the worth of the company. AppAware is an application which shows you what people are installing on Android devices. You can see the installation trends, see what’s hot, what’s not, and based on that info decide for yourself what apps to install on your own device. AppAware is location aware, so you can see what the people around Zurich have installed (and uninstalled). Naturally you can connect to friends to see what they’re doing and copy their behavior if you happen to be a sheep grazing in the mobile app feeding fields. You can tag apps and…do what most social network type apps are doing – and in this field, idea execution is everything. As I began to consider an ASUS Transformer I understand why this sort of app is needed. By contrast you can easily see in the Apple app store if a an app is good or not, read reviews and see if there’s compatibility issues with the latest release. I couldn’t really find the same info planning which apps to buy for an Android device, and AppAware would fill that need.

Is there a way that AppAware is making money? Not at the moment, but there are high hopes for the future, such as providing apps for money and data mining. AppAware/42 Matters is an ETH startup, it originally began as part of a PhD project, and was successful enough to found a company. Seems like a reasonable direction, but in the SWOT sense of the mobile landscape it seems like AppAware could be a stepping stone to something better for the founders – as opposed to the final killer product. The thing is, apps like AppAware have no security against competitors, and even if you’re the first to market it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. A new hot trending app can come along with the samesimilar technology and suck up your users like a sponge wiping across the universe or a second straw in your milkshake. Still, part of the reason the founders put their ETH studies on hold was because their idea got so big so quickly, and that pulse could continue to grow with the explosion of mobile devices on the world. I wish them well.

I’m a Doktor of Science, but I’m also into photography, painting, and small production video creation. So was naturally very interesting for me to learn about. There is a very large market for licensed music and media on the internet, but a lot of it is simply shared or pirated. I know this well, and there are many times I want to use a piece of music in a video production, but as an independent hobby-director I have no way to license music legally to use in my work. I’ve resorted to creating my own music, and now I’m collaborating with a DJ from Atlanta I met on Working with DJCue is a great solution for me, and this anecdote is actually a success story for Talenthouse, but the vast majority of folks don’t have time to forge partnerships like I’ve had the ability to do, and just want to easily license music for their projects as easily as buying the song on iTunes. Restorm is a company trying to do that (well, compared to the way it is now it would be as easy as iTunes).

Philippe (from Restorm) wants to make it easy to allow direct licensing agreements between musicians and producers needing music for films and other projects. This is huge for people like me, who have been wondering since the beginning of time (ok, maybe 3 years at least) why we can’t do this already. From the presentation, it seems like Restorm is taking the right angle on the licensing issue. The photography stock market has basically been destroyed by microstock companies such as ShutterStock, who built unsustainable business models ideal for designers needing cheap images but pretty poor for photographers (think ShutterStock) looking to profit from their imagery. Companies like Photoshelter and Alamy provide credible licensing options for photographers, but I think that Restorm can do something really significant in the area of creative works licensing if they’re successful starting with licensing music. I’m looking forward to their full launch.

The After Party

After the presentations the best part of any given Web Monday begins, the time of drinks by the BBQ and networking with all manner of interesting people. I was mingling and hanging out with folks like Mike Byte to catch up on his latest projects and by the end of the night witnessed a customer feedback session that forever proves in my mind that Google is not evil, and is composed of caring people focused on providing an enjoyable experience for their customers.

It went down like this, I was talking in a circle of friendly conversation with some folks (including a Googler), admiring business cards (I had forgotten mine) and making smart remarks about this and that newest thing. I vaguely recall something about tactile surfaces perhaps, or a smart phone display built wth thin-film piezo technology, which will power the devices by user gestures. Then a tall man in a light colored suit, and pressed shirt walked up to us. He seemed out of place at a Web Monday, where even the folks from IBM don’t come in suits. He was a well-dressed man with well-groomed hair and a suit and a tie in a sea of web hipsters with tactile business cards, Freitag bags, disheveled hair cuts, and relaxed-fit jeans (I was sporting a fine pair of white leather Adidas by the way).

One of our circle of conversation was a Googler, wearing his fine Google t-shirt. The well-dressed man didn’t seem to be very happy, and we soon found out it had to do with Google. The conversation started off innocently, our Googler was showing off his phone sporting Android, and we were engaged in dialogue about how some people put a piece of paper over the camera port on their iMac because they’re a little freaked out at the new technology (as did I at first). The iPhone location tracking scandal was in the news at that time, and then our well-dressed friend began making remarks about Google being evil and how he deleted his account. We asked about his line of work and turns out he was a risk manager. So he was keenly clued in to all manner of freaky things that could go wrong in life, backed up by mathematical models, and I think he was a little paranoid – Paranoid that Google was evil and hell bent on taking over all our lives, but then the real reason for his quiet rage came out.

You see, he had set up a Google AdWords account, and he was pissed off that AdWords wasn’t showing up on his chosen search terms, even when his colleagues tried to search from different browsers. He seemed like a meticulous person, and as it turns out, had double checked and tried everything. The main page of his company was on the front page of Google (thanks to organic search optimization), but apparently for AdWords the search terms didn’t hit. There’s no customer service line for AdWords, and he was uber frustrated at the whole experience. Our Googler friend began a solution-oriented approach, bringing up different things that could be wrong, desperately trying to help our well-dressed friend with now fiery eyes, slightly reminiscent of lava about to explode from a deep crack in the surface of the Earth. This went on for maybe 10 minutes…did you try..ah…YES I TRIED THAT..what about..YES I DID THAT AS WELL.

It’s hard to describe the crescendo of rage that was now emanated from the eyes of our well-dressed friend, and for a second I thought we were heading to an apex in energy and he was going to rip off his blazer and punch our Googler in the face because of his poor AdWords user-experience. I’ve been studying user experience this past year, and also have shared this personal rage at wanting to throw a computer out the window, but when you have a representative of the company at the root of your rage directly in front of you, well, the bull’s eye is obvious for your rage canon. This is the point in a confrontation when you either fight back or accommodate to and empathize with the feelings of the aggressor and diffuse the bomb as it were. Our brave Googler handled the situation as any upstanding professional should. He pulled out his Google business card and offered to personally help in the matter.

This defused the situation because some one was listening – and listening is at the heart of user experience satisfaction. It’s the difference between OSX and Windows Vista. It’s the center that this social media tech world revolves around. A real person was offering to help and get to the root of the issue and was sincere in showing that he cares. In an instant the fiery eyes cooled and the rage diffused into the cool Zurich night sky. Our well-dressed friend remarked to me (now with a slight smile on his face), that if Google didn’t change its ways that everyone would simply leave and go to some other search giant. I remarked, that unlike the US economy, Google is too big to fail. He laughed now with genuine joy and agreed with me – a huge smile upon his face, and faded into the fine Zurich night like the Cheshire Cat blending into the background of Wonderland.

Swiss Startup Camp 2011 Basel – Recollections

The train ride from Basel to Zurich on a Friday night is wonderful place to be. Half the people are calm family types, smiling and say they love each other as they sit down, and the other half are pre-drinking Feldschlossen or some cheap wine, getting ready to live it up at the Zurich clubs all night or a party in Sissach. I’m calm and alone on my computer, recounting an amazing day at the 2011 Swiss Startup Camp in Basel. The day was a blast, a warm, invigorating tech-blast of knowledge and inspiration. It was a high-speed infusion of energy and inspiration, and I hope the momentum will take me places I never imagined.

This is a summary of my experiences at the third Swiss Startup camp in Basel, one of the premier gatherings of folks in the Swiss startup scene. You enter not really knowing what to expect, and after picking up your t-shirt and grabbing a coffee we started to discuss who wants to talk about what (the usual barcamp procedure). There are many things which can happen at such an event, but for sure you’ll walk away from the day with a head full of ideas and inspiration to boot. For the past half year I’ve been focused on painting, photography and learning to make movies, and to a certain extent dropped out of the startup events around Zurich. However, I’m ready to get back into it and see what happens. I’ve also been in a sort of tech-soul searching mode for the past half year, and have now focused my energies in three convergent directions: mobile technology, UX/UI, and ebook design. I found my way into sessions about Lean Startup, Scrum, and the Quantified Self.

Lean Startup Factory

The Lean Startup Factory session by Remy and Reto had the biggest impact on me. Lean startup is trending on the Swiss Startup Scene, a take on the Lean Startup Factory from the US. The point is that there’s lots of business ideas every day, week, month, etc. What do we do with them, nothing goddammit, and that needs to change. Forget about sweating the domain name, half desiging a logo, and then failing to execute the idea. What good are good ideas if they never get off the ground? Execution is far more important than inspiration. So fuck the NDAs and business plans, we need to execute, get to the core of beast and start the rock n’ rolla. Well, that was what was going through my head when I listened to Remy (SuperText) and Reto (Doodle) talk about the idea of organizing a Lean Startup Factory weekend in the Zurich area this summer. The main (Fight Club free interpretation) is to dedicate one weekend to breath life in one of your ideas - Build the next twitter in 2 days.

No SWOT, no business research, just team building. 30 people get together on a Friday night, build the teams, and find the core of the idea. Get to the core and execute the idea. No secrets, each team owns the project. No NDAs. Each team owns what they have (because ideas are worthless without execution). The point came up, what about the Swiss startup weekend that already took place. Well, word is that pre-planning and NDAs killed it, because you start to fight between one another instead of creating. Someone said on the street that this will be corrected for this year, but I’m totally inspired by Remy and Reto. Now, who is it for? The startup factory is not limited to developers, but also open to people keen on visual design, interaction design, usability, copywriting, etc. It’s about the whole picture, not just the code. This is the stuff I dream for. During the (t)here Magazine 1 Day of Art in Copenhagen I was exposed to the same method. You go to an inspiring location, dream up ideas on a Friday night, and then create hardcore all of Saturday and show the result. During 1 Day of Art I created paintings I wouldn’t have done in Zurich, and it was all due to the unique energy and inspiration created around the event.

For me, lean factory feels exactly like 1 Day of Art. When I went to 1 Day of Art Copenhagen, it was all hardcore expression and creation. The fine folks from (t)here Magazine put the day together, and I was able to attend thanks to exposure on Talenthouse. However, at the end of the day it was the excellent creative energy and environment of the weekend, cutting out all distractions and just painting with determination in the bathroom of Hotel Fox. It was environment and execution of the idea, trust the process and ride the creative wave and you won’t have to worry about the weekend being a failure – success is the only mother fucking option. The word Factory conjures up the work of Andy Warhol and music from Manchester. You just need to trust in the method and the people. Get people together who want to create, put them in a room with the tools they need, and good things will happen, failure isn’t an option because it’s not part of the equation. The factory plan is like this, everyone meets on Friday, present and talk over ideas, then form some teams and spend the weekend creating, coding, designing, and see what happens. If you’re into this head over to the group, Lean Startup Factory on Amazee.

Lukas Fischer – Lean Startup

I like Lean, and I love reading about management strategies in IT and dreaming of applying them to engineering projects, so after the factory talk I headed over the listen to Lukas Fischer give a rundown on Lean Startup. Lukas heads up,, and spent some time chilling in San Francisco last summer learning and meeting with folks and he wanted to share his thoughts and experiences with Lean. The lean startup trend seems to be trending hard on the Swiss startup landscape, and the room wall filled to capacity to hear what the buzz is about. Lukas started by stated some facts, 70% of startups fail, 10% make money. Why? Because startups often don’t make stuff customers actually want (logical, no?). Lean isn’t a management magic bullet, it’s just a set of best practices to help startups succeed. The concept was set down by @ericries, and @sgblank, considered the fathers of lean startup. First, let’s start at the start. What is a startup? It’s a human institution to deliver a product or service under extreme uncertainty. It could also be an organization used to search for a scalable business model. Lean helps to do that. Here’s my summary of his talk (a bit with my interpretation filled in), but you can also get the slides directly (below here).

So, what is best way to see if there are customers for your idea? Well, you can go through these steps to topics with CUSTOMER DEVELOPMENT:

  • Customer discovery – test hypothesis

  • Customer validation – charge money

  • Customer creation – start sales

  • Scale company – scale it

This sounds all well and good, but what does Lean mean? With Agile development, the point is to do customer development really fast. Speed is key, so use an iteration process (as opposed to Waterfall) when developing your product.

Ideas – Build code – Measure data – Learn – Repeat

Now, the Waterfall model is ok if you already know the solution. However, it is not good for startups because you don’t know the customers, and therefore you are also ignorant of the final solution. So it makes sense to use an interaction process as shown above. So how do you get Lean?

  1. Forget Waterfall

  2. Build up Agile

  3. Build team – focus only on problem team and solution team

  • To reduce the clutter, focus on the Problem and the Solution. The problem team focuses on customers and finding the perfect solution. The solution team builds it as fast as possible

  • Minimum viable product (MVP). When you start with an idea, you need a product which solves a real client problem, but just solves one pain.

  • Eliminate features. Throw out features and resolve a problem for a customer, if it doesn’t solve a problem, remove it from your code.

  • Early evangelists. Feedback of early adopters and people who love your vision is very important, they will tell you early on what features are missing

  • Continuous integration. Iterate, iterate, iterate, deploy your application as fast as possible, measure if the new version is better than old one.

  • Product market fit. A company has “product market fit” when it has found a product that customers really want.

  • Measuring product market fit. Would you be sad if the product no longer exists, if less than 25% are very disappointed, then your product just sucks.

  • Charge. People pay if they can solve a real problem, charge from day 1, it finds out quickly if people are willing to pay for a product or not.

All in all Lukas gave an excellent talk on Lean. For more information you can check out the 5-step startup metric model by @davemclure, and there are internet sites like So, my take away messages included, iterate, fix problems, make an error only once, ask why if it happens 5 times, and use lean to stop creating products people don’t want.

Scrum – What is it?

After two sessions of Lean I was looking for something else along those lines, so I headed over to Scrum with Steve Holyer (@zurcherart). Steve is a web worker and a certified scrum master, so he’s a reliable person to talk with on the Scrum subject. What is Scrum? The term originates from Rugby, where a scrum is used to restart the game when the ball has gone out of play. It can also be, an iterative, incremental methodology for project management, often seen in agile software development. What can we use to describe it? Visibility,empowerment, commitments, agility, efficient, hard, easy, fun, self-managing, cool, it works, best practices, hyper-productive. I’m totally new to Scrum but, from Steve I got the basics. There are some main team roles: Product owner, Team, Scrum master.

Product owner: Knows the customer, decides where the team should go, but not how they get there or how fast, owns the product backlog, prioritizes the product backlog (but does not estimate the stories in the backlog). Usually not the line manager.

Team: 5-9 people, doing the work to complete the project or sprint, self organizing, the team want to get it done and it’s up to the team to get it done, cross-functional, attend the daily scrum, not limited to coders and developers but also analysts, testers, etc. Can also include scrum master.

Scrum master: Coaches everyone in the process and scrum practices, removes impediments, holds the daily scrum, usually not part of the team, usually not the line manager, usually not the tech guru, protects the team. Leads most of the meetings.

Then we move into activities, what is the scrum, how does everything work? We start out with activities. Activities are basically just meetings, but very well defined meetings, which follow the same format in a limited time and are well structured. These include sprint planning, daily scrum, and review. The first two are the less-obvious for me. Sprint Planning: Product owner presents the backlog, the team is there to question the product owner, re-estimate, re-prioritize, estimate velocity, select stories for the sprint. Part two starts after lunch. Break down tasks, at the end the team commits to delivering so and so stories at the end of the sprint. Daily Scrum: This is the sprint commitment, the team has committed to deliver this to you, if you add new tasks in the middle of the sprint, you’re asking them to do something that breaks their commitment. Do you really want to do that? If yes then stop the sprint and replan.

As a mechanical engineer who is always working in Waterfall, it was very interesting to hear Steve talk about Scrum. Some of these techniques are being brought over into the mechanical world, where it has been called Concurrent Engineering. However, I would rather go to the source, and I like the terms Agile and Scrum a lot more. I’ll see how I can integrate the Lean and Scrum management and development ideas into my future projects. There are many parallels in the mechanical engineering world, especially now as more and more projects rely on simulations and virtual prototyping in the development process, but change doesn’t always come easily. Still, I’m optimistic for the future.

The Quantified Self

My last session of the camp was about a website called Quantter (Quan#er) and the Quantified self by Denis Harscoat (@harscoat). Do you know what that means? I had no clue, but it’s the future, and this is how it has begun. The quantified human was the most experimental session I attended. I say experimental mainly because the movement is still so new that even a wikipedia entry didn’t come up when I googled for it before the talk. Quantified Self refers to humans who have quantified themselves, it means people who gather, digest, and interpret data about themselves. Their heart rate throughout the day, their brain waves and sleep patterns, how much they walk each day, what they eat, all these things can be easily measured and recorded now using basic sensors or an iPhone app. This will be big for various reasons. On one hand, we all know that people love to collect and analyze data, and if they can do it about themselves and then share it, it opens up a big market for people to compare their data with that of other people. It’s also an avenue for medical research, and helping people gauge their own healing process and for doctors to monitor patient stats in realtime. The idea is really very powerful. It is the idea of knowing yourself in numbers. It means development of tools for quantifying parts of your life, and using technology to understand how to live in a better way. Once you have and can see the data, the next question is how to interpret it, and then to take action on what you’ve found out about yourself. The website Quantter (Quan#er) is a platform for people to share tweets and things about the stuff they’ve quantified. I can see this as being a big, actually potentially huge growth area in the future if it takes off. For it to take off there needs to be mobile applications to easily record relevant information that can be quantified, and I think that’s where the money will be made. For more info on the quantified self, check out to get info on what people are doing with it and meetups. There’s also a video of Denis of a meetup in Amsterdam on vimeo.

The End: Moment of Zen

Thank you to all the organizers and sponsors, this third Swiss startup camp was fantastically awesome. The startup camp is a wonderful platform for startup folks around Switzerland to meet and develop new opportunities and ideas. It’s consistently the best barcamp I attend every year (yes, it beats out Berlin) and I left Basel with some serious motivations and ideas. Now it’s time to go to work. But first, your Moment of Zen, here’s my favorite random quote from the day (picked up at the after-party):

9 women working one month can’t create a baby.

Web Monday Zurich #14

One of the coolest things about the Web Monday Zurich meetings are the cool locations. Every Monday it takes place in a different place, and after a while you get the feeling of exploring the unique office spaces of the Zurich tech scene. One month you’re sitting in the cozy office space of Amazee, the next you’re chilling on the comfortable couch of Wuala, I took a ride down the rabbit hole slide at Google and on May 3rd, 2010, I got to check out Big Blue, the IBM European headquarters in Bahnhof Altstetten in Zurich. IBM is famous for being (historically) the Evil juggernaut of Silicon Valley (my feeling via Steve Jobs), the beast which Apple and Microsoft rallied against in the early days of the personal computer wars. But now that Apple is the old skool corporate entity – well…IBM sort of feels like the nimble innovation-minded corporation reborn from the ashes of the Silicon computer wars. The people there seem energetic and free-minded – like tech-prophets marching into the future with their heads high and without the corporate giant stigma you see when watching the Pirates of Silicon Valley.

The IBM building has a fantastic atrium, where you can mingle and enjoy an apero before heading into the auditorium. There’s a giant sort of aquarium with blue lights and a couple of huge serves on display, it’s an interesting place to have a beer, and IBM beer surpasses the offerings at Google. I enjoyed a weissbeer while getting my head slightly twisted for my presentation on Web Portraits Zurich and mingled with folks. But before I got up on stage and tried to make a fool of myself, we were treated to talks and thoughts from IBM, Dein Deal, and Kooaba.


Siddhartha Arora (from IBM) was our host for evening, and presented the IBM Global Entrepreneur Program. Basically, IBM is interested in working with startup teams to build a smarter planet. This is an awesome higher purpose to hear from giant company like IBM. So what do startups need when starting out? They need to be low cost, they need mentoring and networking, and then they need marketing and sales. And if you’re accepted into the program, IBM offers it’s project support, people, and marketing strength. Teams would have access to IBM servers and technology support to allow the growth of new ideas and startups. What’s in it for Big Blue? The intellectual property stays with the startup, but I think there’s the belief that helping technology grow is a good thing. If you have a sweet idea that works well on a small startup scale, at some point you’ll need to scale toward the sky, and you need IBM for that. So, basically IBM is enabling new ideas for a smarter planet by supporting startups, and hopes to benefit from the eventual resources required for cool startup ideas to turn into killer companies. I think that this approach is what big companies like Big Blue should be doing to foster and encourage the spread and evolution of ideas, and the higher purpose here, “To build a smarter planet” sounds authentic and is highly inspirational. If you’re interested, you can apply for the program at

Dein Deal

There are a number of cool social marketing ways to form new selling opportunities, and Dein Deal is basically taking the idea of and putting it in practice in Switzerland. The concept is as old as supply and demand, if you pool the buying power of people, you can reduce the price of a product. Dein Deal focuses on providing deals on “experiences” in Switzerland. What’s an experience? Going out to dinner, a massage, wellness, whatever can be offered. It’s good for deal providers because they get a lot of people using their services, and encourages people to come back after trying it out. It’s good for Dein Deal, because the concept has already been proven successful in a ton of other countries. It’s a copycat concept, but who cares? If something works in one place (like America or Germany) why not see if will downscale to a small country like Switzerland?


I’ll be honest, I love the idea of Kooaba, because as a photographer and visual imagery junky, it’s the technology I was always excited about. And since I live in a cave, I also didn’t know the technology already existed and felt like an idiot in a crowd of brainiacs. What does Kooaba do? Image recognition. That’s it. That’s what I love to learn about. The Kooaba technology recognizes objects in images. If you can identify these elements and then link it to something (like Amazon) you have a very powerful tool for image searching and monitization of online imagery. Why is this important? Because you can’t search for images on the internet. You can only search for tags and text associated to imagery, but you can’t draw a house and find images of houses on Google (not that I know of at least). The idea is that you have an iPhone, Android, smart phone, take a picture of something, and then you get buying info on that object (online stores, Amazon, etc.). Google has a similar application called Google Goggles, which is now the main competitor of Kooaba. The old competitor used to be a startup called Snaptell, who was bought by Goolge (see how the circle of life works).

Kooaba isn’t able to recognize everything though. If you have a picture of a cat, it won’t know what to do with it. Basically the technology works by querying a database, recognizing an object in the image, and then sending the user to buying services. They also have some applications like Paperboy, which is used to take a picture of a magazine article, and then you get connected to the electronic version online on your smart phone. They also have Shooting Star, a photo management app with flickr integration, and using the image recognition technology your image is instantly tagged based on recognized objects. Very cool I think. At the moment it looks good for tagging according to landmarks and scenery, which is great for travel photography. However, this is really just a very small part of what image recognition has the potential to do for retail business and advertising.

Why is imagery recognition so important? Because we love celebrities because of who they are in our minds and love to buy the shit they pose with in magazines. So companies pay advertising agencies to develop ad campaigns with famous faces to sell stuff like Nespresso and clothes. But with image recognition all you would need to do is have a picture on an Android/iPad/iPhone/internet tablet, and in an online magazine and click on an object that Lady Gaga is wearing in some random article about music and then using location based information technology your device could be connected with the closest store offering ghastly latex shoes or you instantly get One-Click link to an Amazon store. Of course, this sucks for the advertising photography industry because it means that any image can be used as an ad, not just those that have been licensed to ad agencies. Imagine my Urban Ninja photos on Flickr being used to sell Katana Samurai swords in Austin, Texas when some kid is looking for cool martial arts photos on his lunch break at school? My images would have aided in selling a product, but I get no split from the sale. But that’s the future, and it’s already here.

Web Portraits Zurich

The last presentation of the night was me and I went low-tech as I presented the Web Portraits Zurich project that I started on Amazee. I went over the concept, explaining why I started taking photos, and how I got bored with self-portraits and started taking to women on the internet to setup model shoots, and then came to the web portrait project idea. I stared the portrait project because I’m continually inspired by the thoughts and visual style of the people I meet in the startup scene. Then it was the most natural thing in the world to start a portrait project, the higher purpose being, “to create cool imagery of people in the startup scene around Zurich and Switzerland.”

I presented images from Mathias Möller and Lukas Fischer, and then talked a bit about the brain storming process and online tools we’ve been using to develop portrait ideas like Google Wave and Cacoo. The next portrait will be with Dania and Gregory from Amazee, and if all goes well a giant Tech-Flesh jungle portrait of the Amazee team will find it’s way onto the net.

Zurich is an exciting place to be if you’re into the startup scene. For more info on what’s happening check out the Web Monday Zurich group on or UX Chuchi or Marketing Chuchi, or just walk the tech streets and explore the possibilities.

Idea Generation and Development – Swiss StartUp Talk

cardcases-1During my visit to the first Swiss StartUp camp I gave a talk/discussion on Idea Generation and Development. It was easily the most enjoyable idea exchange I’d ever been apart of. Ideas are something close to my heart, they fly around inside my head like a horde of horny humming birds during spring. I love the concept of understanding how ideas are created, how concepts change throughout time and how to be more creative in life. I was highly freaked out at the StartUp camp. I’m used to talking at BarCamps about photography and visual imagery, and every time I give a talk I learn how to better present ideas. Fear creeps up my spine when I’m standing in front of a room of people, and that’s half the fun of participating in a barcamp. I forgot to record the talk with my Zoom H4, so I went about re-doing my talk and recording it one night in my apartment. If you want to watch the video, I have to say that I perform far better when in front of a crowd, the energy and adrenaline and momentum of the discussion are impossible to reproduce in the studio, but I was able to renegotiate my talk, naturally there was never a script. A summary of the main points are included here for those who like to scan and speed read instead of watching and listening to my dry voice on an internet video. Basically I wanted to talk about and discuss how we generate new ideas, and how we develop and organize ideas.

So, how does one generate and develop new ideas?

startup_camp_09003Create an Analogy

We use analogies all the time in life. It’s a concept we learn when reading stories. We look up in the sky and we see birds flying, so we create an analogy and build airplanes with wings which allow us to fly in the sky. We live in a multi-disciplinary world, and many times a basic idea in one place becomes revolutionary in another area. But it’s not necessarily the concept (of flying for example) which is important, it’s the way we go from A to B which can be revolutionary. What’s the opposite of a square? Many people will say a “circle”, and I’m inclined to agree. But this is only obvious because squares and circles are basic building blocks we grow up with. If you grew up only knowing squares, would you know that a circle is the opposite of a square? How would you change a square into a circle if you had no idea what a circle is. Yes, you can round down the 90 degree corners and eventually end up with a circle. But the question isn’t if you know that squares and circles are opposite, the question is if you could create a circle from a square without knowing how they’re related to one another. This would be a totally new idea, growing up in a square world and one day drawing a circle.


What once was cool is new and hip again. Many times the great new idea is really just an old idea that has been taken from the past and repackaged in a new technology for people to use and consume. What’s a basic example? Your parents used to be Hippies, and as a kid in the 1990’s you raided their closets to get some cool retro jeans and a leather jacket. In art and design old themes are continually recycled. Doc Martens takes the concept of wingtips and repackages them in the Doc Marten thick sole theme, and there’s a cool new product for people like me to buy (yes, I do love my Doc Marten wingtips). In the technology field, let’s look at one of the most important communication technologies of the past 20 years. Email. Yes, and what is “email” well, it’s like mail, but it’s been packaged in a digital, paperless form millions of people use every day. And just like cutting down the corners of a square, email has been whittled down to SMS, text messaging, transformed to the web on Twitter, which is the same thing as Facebook profile updates. Taking a retro idea and repackaging it to define the future is a highly effective way of creating new technologies and startup ideas. It’s just a question of how you perceive the past in relation to the future.

0000283-r01-013Mind Body Duality

As we evolve as a society, from being farmers to living in cities, from working in factories to sitting in little cubicles and spending our days in front of a computer screen, you have to wonder how this affects our thinking processes. Let’s face it, there’s a basic code in our DNA which says we’re partially designed to build spears, hunt stuff, kill it, and eat it. Humans have bodies designed to move, run, adapt, climb – to react. And sitting in front of a computer screen is, not surprisingly, not the best physical state to be in if you’re looking for new ideas. The Latin motto of my over-priced highschool is, “Mens Sana in Corpore Sano” – the internet tells me this more or less translates as, “a sound mind in a sound body.”

If we want to create analogies, and reinterpret retro ideas, we need to be active. Go out in the world, explore, have a lot of sex, be passionate and curious about life. Sitting in front of a computer screen working on a project plan 24 hours a day is a sad way to live. I get some of my best ideas when I’m active, taking a walk, walking around a city shooting graffiti, climbing a mountain, sailing around the Greek islands. Take the time to be active in life, more active than heading to a StarBucks on a sunny Sunday morning. Being active gets your blood flowing, releases endorphins, lets you move through different environments, different cities, experiencing different ideas and cultures, and allows you to enrich you body and views on life. Don’t be a couch potato, be an active participant in life and good ideas will follow.

urban_poetAvoid Cliches

We’ve heard it a thousands times. A cliche is a word we use when we’re disgusted with an old concept being recycled in the same form without adding anything to the original idea. Like, using a gun in a portrait and expecting the resulting image to be cool just because a gun is used. The cliche is the “easy” answer without any evolution from the original form. Cars need to have wheels, airplanes need to have wings, girls play with dolls and buys play with G.I. Joe action figures. In a short time period a cliche can be very successful. You can also think of cliches as fads. Facebook may or not be a cliche in two years. Right now Facebook is for sure a fad, not much different from MySpace, if Facebook is going to be successful in the long run, it needs to offer a unique value to it’s users. Right now the only reason to be on Facebook is that all your friends are on it, but fads can implode faster than they rise in popularity. I got an email from my friend saying she’s leaving Facebook and I’m like, “yeah, no problem, we’ll go back to the old fashioned form of email communication.” By comparison, Flickr is a service which offers users the unique ability to distribute photography and visual media to an ever increasing pool of viewers. Great ideas need to give a perception of “value” to people who adopt those ideas. A cliche doesn’t mean an idea is “bad” but rather that it’s not giving people any new value beyond what is currently being offered. Anyone remember Friendster? Friendster was a cliche when it was released because it was basically like MySpace (to be honest, I only know I started using MySpace first), I don’t know or care if it’s still on the web (it’s still alive), I just know it didn’t add any value to my life and therefore I never used it. Flickr (not so different from a site like DeviantArt) gives me a great deal of value, allowing me to integrate and connect my text blogging activities directly to visual media distribution. Avoid cliches, give people new value in even old ideas, and you’ll have something unique.


Probably the most powerful tool I use in my head is the ability to ignore the boundaries between Art and Science. In school we’re taught that science, mathematics, physics and such are basically sets of static laws which we use to characterize and understand the natural world. By contrast we’re given the impression that Art is nonlinear, pure emotion, the expression of what is boundless. I say that Science is simply the current interpretation of the boundaries of what is known. Those boundaries sound static, but they’re not. The laws of science are really just our perception of the physical laws which govern the universe. But perceptions are “not” static, and have changed throughout history. They are changing now, and will be different in the future.

The world is not flat, but for a long time the perception of many people was that the Earth was, in fact, flat. Now we know it is round, and that the universe does not revolve around us. Or rather, the overall perception is that the world is round, how many of us have really tested this idea? The point is that if you just listen to what people tell you and let them form the boundaries of your perception of the world, how will you go from a square world to a circle? I say express the vision in your head within the boundaries of your environment, and then change the boundaries when your vision doesn’t fit the environment.


The Doors Theory of Project Management

Given an infinite amount of funding and an infinite amount of resources you can accomplish more things than you can imagine in life. The fact is, no matter how much time and money and resources are at your disposal, project management is still going to be the key to success. I like to think of projects as having a start, and an end, an A and a B. A square, and a circle. In between is an infinite number of pathways between A and B. Based on your available resources those pathways decrease, and it’s your job to move from A to B in the most efficient way.

“When the Doors of Perception are cleansed, man will see things as they truly are, infinite” – William Blake

The Gist

So, there it is, a rambling menagerie of generating ideas. Maybe it’s a bit too philosophical, but that’s the kind of guy I am. Use analogies to make unfamiliar concepts familiar, repackage retro ideas in new ways, avoid cliches, ignore the boundaries between Art and Science, and in the end, take some inspiration from Jim Morrison and the Doors as the backbone of your project management strategy. Find a cool idea which gives people value in their lives, and you might have the basis for the next great StartUp company.

Yes…I Do Indeed Poken

yes_i_poken-5Do you Poken?” It’s a respectable question, not one you hear every day, but it was a tagline floating around the room at the First Swiss StartUp Camp in Basel. I walked in and was greeted by smiles from the organizers, they handed me my badge and T-shirt and then my eyes fell upon a table filled with cool little…things. I walked up to investigate and was greeted by a smiling Stephane Doutriaux (Poken founder & CEO). “Do You Poken?” he asks me. I admitted that I didn’t, and that I had no real clue what he was talking about. “Do I Poken?” “Poken Sie?” It sounds like one of those random German verbs I don’t know how to conjugate, or a spinoff of Pokemon. Turns out Poken is actually the bridge we’ve been looking for in a cluster-fucked-new-social-network-every-other-week Web 2.0 internet world. The purpose of Poken is to solve a simple problem (the aim of many great startups). It facilitates the transfer of social bookmark information from one person to another when they meet in real life. Because, what usually happens? You meet someone, somewhere at a party, you might exchange phone numbers or email addresses, but often you say something like, “cool, I’ll look you up on Facebook.” And then what happens? You find that there are like 1000 people on Facebook with the same name living in the same geographic region. Too many of them don’t have photos and at this point the best option is to start sending out random friend requests to find one person. Poken essentially eliminates this communication cluster-fuck by transferring your contact on to a Poken device.

yes_i_poken-3yes_i_poken-4Here’s the deal. You meet someone, say at the first Swiss StartUp Camp in Basel. You decide this person is pretty cool and that you’d like to have their contact info, so you pull out your Poken. You touch your Poken to their Poken, a little green light illuminates on both device…and that’s it. If the light is red, it means it didn’t work and you try again. Now, you head back to your place after meeting a ton of people and plug your Poken into the USB port on your computer. You open the link to the Poken main webpage (which pops up on the drive of the Poken), after registering (takes 5 minutes) all the people you “Pokened” are listed.  Or rather, the devices are listed. If the person you met hasn’t registered with Poken and associated their contact information, then obviously you can’t get in touch with them. Poken records the device contact, but all the actual contact information is saved on the Poken webpage. But, basically after getting Pokened you have the contact information and all is good in the world. When you register with Poken you’re basically linking your social networks like Flickr, Facebook, Xing, etc. to your Poken account. So when I look at my contacts on the Poken page, I have direct links to all the networks they’ve associated with their Poken account, simple, perfect, Poken.

yes_i_poken-2From what I’ve been told, Poken is huge in the Netherlands. It’s a fantastic technology, as long as everyone else has one. When you’re an early adopter it can be a tad lonely. However, it makes you feel like you’re in a special order of internet Geekiness and I like it. Currently Pokens are available in a growing family of cute little animal-like…things, and can bought through the main Poken webpage and an expanding number of stores. I opted for a cute pink girl-type Poken, the others look like cute koala beers, bees, etc. Eventually I’d like a Poken that has an aluminum casing and has a red LED eye like Hal from 2001 (A Space Odyssey), we’ll see what the future brings. Poken has been released in Switzerland, and you can start finding them in stores. Otherwise you can buy them in a set and sell them to your friends. For the moment my cute pink-punk girly Poken can be found hanging out of my jeans or on my keychain.

yes_i_poken-6Eventually I’m sure the Poken technology will migrate to other devices like cell phones or something else, which would be sweet (sweet if I had a modern cell phone). So, if you’re looking for a cool little device which lets you keep all your social contacts in one place, Poken could be the perfect product for you. The technology works, it’s simple to use, it’s cool, and it’s addictive. All the elements required for a successful StartUp idea to flourish, and all elements for a successful social internet networking tool seem to be reflected in the Poken design. By the end of the day at the first Swiss StartUp camp, I’m guessing like over half the participants had a Poken and were poking each other whenever possible. The act is truly addictive, as addictive as Facebook, Flickr, etc. is when you’re adding friends online. The thing I love about Poken is that it’s a direct translation of the benefits of social networking into real-life social interaction. I know this sounds a tad aloof but it’s true. Social networking sites like Flickr and Facebook are fantastic for aggregating contact information, but it always exists in the online world. Poken provides the bridge between the technology of online social networking and the real world, and this is one reason why I think Poken can be successful while sites like Facebook risk hitting a popularity peak and then fading into obscurity.

“Give people value, and provide a product/service which solves a problem that they have.”

That was one of the main points I took away from the First Swiss StartUp Camp, and for me Poken fulfills the above statement perfectly.

“So, do you Poken?”

Swiss StartUp Camp Basel 2009

ssc09Organized on Amazee, the Swiss StartUp Camp 2009 in Basel was an awesome experience to be a part of. I arrived early on time the morning of January 31st in Basel, and as I walked into the Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz, I knew that I was out of my element, of this much I was sure. What was a photography-focused blogger doing at a camp for StartUps? More to the point, why did I give a presentation at a venue where the focus is totally out of my experience level? Because putting two opposite things together sometimes leads to unique solutions. There were people walking around who have startups, who finance companies with 10X more money that I make in a year. There were individuals, those who have concrete ideas and were looking for financing and maybe changing the world. I’m a mechanical engineer who publishes a blog about photography. So when those of us with things to say stood up and offered the titles of our talks, I was surrounded by people listing talks about getting funding, working with venture capitalists, protecting intellectual property and managing startups, I felt a shudder of fear and apprehension shutter through my spine. But I’d agreed to take the ride, and offered up a talk about creating new ideas and managing them.

The term StartUp is a dangerous thing to throw around in Switzerland or Silicon Valley (I would imagine). It’s like living in L.A. and saying you’re writing a script. Sure it sounds cool and will make people listen, but everybody in L.A. is writing a script, wants to be a director, has a stand-up gig on the side and is dreaming of bigger things than working at StarBucks. Trying to be something you’re not doesn’t work in life for more than 10 minutes. I have no StartUp, but you never know about the future, and in the present tense, I do know how to create and organize ideas, so that’s what I talked about.

The StartUp Camp was organized as a barcamp, which in theory means that everything is done on the fly. But the cool thing about the StartUp camp is that each time slot had one or two prepared talks. It was actually the perfect mix forethought and inspiration, offering room for the unknown and at the same time you knew there would be some good talks no matter who showed up.

The keynote speaker was Suhas Gopinath, at one time the 14 year old CEO from India. He had a cool story about pretending to be a prospective customer to various companies, and then refusing to do business with them because they didn’t have a website. Then he emails again and asks if they need help building a website. Deceptive, but apparently effective. The rest of the continuing story is internet company startup successful history in the present tense. We like to hold up young and successful people, no matter if they’re 14 year old CEO’s or 15 year old pro photographers like Joey Lawrence. Truth is, doesn’t matter how old you are, it matters what you do with the time you have. ?Howard Hughes is still my entrepreneurial hero.

The great value in un-conferences (BarCamps) is that you interact with people from a very broad spectrum of society. In research conferences, you interact with people from a very narrow spectrum of society, and this is one reason why I love attending BarCamp conferences instead of technical ones, I get exposed to new ideas, totally outside my area of understanding. I started the day with no idea what VC means, but by the afternoon I was well-versed in the difference between Venture Capitlists and Angles, what is expected from an investor standpoint, and how to get a business moving from concept to incorporation stage.

Fully reporting on everything I learned at the Swiss StartUp Camp would impossible, as I’m still processing it all and decided long ago not to be a journalist. A few of the most memorable things that will stick in my head for years to come came from a talk given by Stephan Bisse. I’ve no doubt missed a few words, but here are some of the core concepts,

“Contrary to popular belief, successful companies start off struggling.”

“Nothing is as powerful as an idea who’s time has come.”

“Be able to explain your concept in 2-3 sentences.”

Both Stephan and Fredi Schmidli shared experiences about their early startups not working because they tried to enter industries controlled by cartels. And of course, the personal skills are far more important than the technical ones, this tone reverberated around each talk I went to. At some point I remembered reading a recounting by Noah Dietrich from the biography of Howard Hughes (“Howard Hughes The Untold Story”, by Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske),

He made them think they were the most important scientists in the world working on the most important scientific projects in the world.

pokenOne of the many cool sponsors of the camp was Poken, a cool little device thats helps to aggregate all your social networks into one place. At first glance it reminded me of a Tamaguchi and the phrase “impending lawsuit by the makers of Pokemon?” was the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw the little device. Basically the Poken is used to exchange “Pokes” with people in real life, then you plug the device into a USB slot and head to the website, all the social network stuff is then right there for everyone you exchanges Pokes with. Pretty cool, fairly neat.

And what comes next? Only the future knows. I’m planning on recording audio to go with my talk on Idea Generation, for now we have the slides. ?In mean time I recommend reading Sparks of Genius by Robert and Michele Root-Berstein. And then? Well, the other option is bouncing a few tissue engineering ideas around my brain and see what results.

Since I was too nervous and freaked out before my presentation, I neglected to record it on my Zoom H4. However, I did take the time to record a version of it using Keynote and after exporting, posted it as a video to Vimeo. I work best with a crowd in front of me, gets the fear creeping up my spine, which doesn’t happen in my apartment. Still, the main points are all there. Enjoy.