StartUp

The Pirate Room: 5 Key Elements

Pirate Ideation Room

The Pirate Room is a place of reflection, of ideation, of brainstorming, of prototyping, of building. I built up a pirate room in my house because I found it essential to have a place to work. Not an office with a desk and computer, but with…purpose. A place for ideas to flow, to have space to move around, and to be able to record and work with ideas. A place to prototype, to draw and create in. Here are a few key attribute, elements if you will to include in your own ideation space.

Pirate Room Ideation1: A Pirate Flag


Well, actually a pirate flag is not essential, but a symbol of purpose is. The pirate flag represents the sense, the motivation of doing things differently, against the grain, a tad outside the bounds of society or the standard way of approaching any one product or idea space. It’s imagining an interactive screen instead of a computer, or removing the need for a  computer completely when designing a new smart watch. The flag is to remind me to think differently when approaching product ideas, pain points, thoughts of philosophy and everything else in between.

Pirate Room2: Whiteboards


As many as possible. If you walk into a Google office you’ll probably see more whiteboards than you can count. When I was in college I put contact paper over all the walls so I could write on them. Having multiple whiteboards means you can draw out ideas, cross reference with other concepts, build up quick wireframes, and diagrams, and discuss with the people around you. When you have something good take a picture drop into the ideation folder of your projects. The pirate flag is hanging by the boards reminding me to think different.

Pirate Ideation Room3: Art


Yes, art. My pirate room has one orange wall and on that wall is my Gonzo Art. I painted these during 1 Day of Art Copenhagen and makes me think of non-linearity and abstraction. The paintings evolved from my work with Photoshop and a desire to get a way from digital imaging and computers as a method of creation. Art is organic, and grounding and that’s important when your mind is getting lost in the sea of digital and internet products and prototyping out ideas for new markets.

Prototyping Kit4: Prototyping Tools


Ideas are worthless little things taking up space in your brain. It’s only when you start to build things and make them at least somewhat tangible that you can really start to play around and evolve product concepts. Paper prototyping allows you to build out representations of your ideas, hold them, test them, etc. I like to draw, it takes time and in that time you re-evaluate what you’re doing and what the purpose of the product is. I like large pieces of paper for these thing, A3 / A2 size is nice as you can make idea diagrams, put down post-it notes, draw out user interfaces, etc. Then on the iPad or computer I can build up interactive prototypes with apps like AppCooker.

Pirate Ideation Room5: Flying Monkeys


YES! Flying monkeys are essential. Or rather, a sense of humor and an appreciation for the absurd is healthy anytime you’re trying to create something new or cleverly repackaged. I have two types of flying monkeys, one is from McFarlane Toys. They are part of the series Twisted Land of Oz. They are a twisted re-imagination of the characters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. They remind me that innocent things are easily re-created as monsters, and the same is true of innovations. The context of an idea determines the purpose and the expression of the idea. The other one is a plush monkey doll with elastic rubber arms that can fly across a room and emit a high-pitched monkey scream while in flight. Why? Cause fun is essential in life and during creation. Never forget to laugh. A serious world is a boring world, and this is a Pirate Room.


Web Monday Zurich 2012 #4

This Monday was Web Monday which means I had the chance to see the lounge of the Swisscom building for this 4th 2012 event of Zurich startups and ideas coming together. These are my notes from the event, taken largely in the Gonzo style and sent off to press with minimal editing. Inaccuracies, misspelled thoughts and rampant exaggerations are to be expected. Read at your own risk…


There were just two fantastic topics on hand at this fine Web Monday Zurich: the Blue Lion incubator and Online conversion / optimization for startups, our fantastic host was Swisscom, the main telecommunications company in Switzerland. (more…)

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.

FI


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


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 netnode.ch, guzuu.com, 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 startuplessonslearned.com. 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 Quantifiedself.com 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.


Blankpage Portraits


I was introduced to Blankpage through one of the team members, Lukas, who I met through Web Monday Zurich. Blankpage is an expanding startup in Zurich focused on B2B content distribution solutions. Blankpage was looking to be a part of the web portraits project, and this offered an opportunity to shoot a full startup team. I visited the Blankpage offices in Schlieren to discuss a shooting concept and get a feeling for the startup. Getting to know new people and hear about their startup ideas is one of greatest benefits of being part of the Web Portraits Zurich project. Blankpage is working on stuff I’m working on in the back of my mind, so it was great to see the iPad version of Das Magazine that they’re coding. Essentially, businesses like newspapers and magazines can come to Blankpage, and they offer solutions for getting that content onto mobile devices like iPhones and iPads, but this is better said on their website:


Design, build and customize electronic publishing technology to maximize business and usability impact for our customer solutions.


This was also my first location shoot for the web portraits project. All the previous shoots were done in my studio, and this offered the opportunity to see the company and get mobile with my lights. I brought a few lights to their offices and setup by a wall with enough space for a large softbox, reflectors, and a fill light.


For the concept, we wanted a certain uniformity between the shots (since it’s a team series), with a certain edginess, but not totally overdone with textures (like I normally do). I decided to go with some simple lighting, one large gridded softbox from one side to get some nice structure on the faces, another normal medium box from the other side, and some fill in the front reflectors.

One of the most interesting portraits from the shoot is Bero, the Linux Guru of Blankpage. He came to the set with a box and a sketch of a face tapped to the front. This sort of humor is simply awesome. We shot a few portraits with the box and then pulled it off, Bero has that perfect mix of hippy and high-tech code warrior and I could easily do a whole series with this concept.

http://blankpage.ch



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.

IBM


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 www.ibm.com/isv/startup.

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 grouponworkes.com 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?

Kooaba


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 Amazee.com or UX Chuchi or Marketing Chuchi, or just walk the tech streets and explore the possibilities.

Web Monday Zurich #13

Web Monday Zurich #13 was held at the offices of Wuala in Zurich (I took a sticker for my laptop), and covered such lovely topics as why companies fear Facebook, the history of the music industry and the visual searching tool I always wanted but never knew existed. I had a headache during the presentations, but that didn’t deter from the coolness of the tech evening from settling into my neuron flow. To join future Web Monday meetings check out the Web Monday Zurich project on Amazee.


I can’t say where the pain in my head came from exactly, some combination of being sick last week, finishing a review of a new electroactive polymer paper, ski touring towards the Wildstrubel (before recovering) in a snow storm and building up an image of a beautiful woman next to a nuclear mushroom cloud is bound to put pressure on essential areas of my neural networks. Plus I think I need new glasses.


According to the book “Neuro Web Design: What Makes them Click?” (which I read for the last UX Book club Switzerland ), people love stories, and if you start one everyone will be captivated. This explains why iMusicianDigital AG was my favorite presentation of the night, because it was mainly a story, that of the music industry from the 1990’s till today.


The 90’s were the golden age of the music industry. People went crazy buying over-priced CDs and more money was made in this time than at any other time in the history of the industry. Then, around 2001 broadband hit along with cheap CD burners and P2P networks, and all the consumers who were pissed off at paying $20 for an album on CD with two good songs and a lot of crap on it were all too happy to pirate as much music as possible (this last part is my own take on the history). CD sales dropped and there was a 20% sales decline per year. Discount CD sales were pushed by big retailers like Media Markt and Best Buy (in the US) who lost money on CDs but made a killing on other stuff (first get them in the stores). While this all went down the local retailers and cool CD shops where put out of business…and now where are we?


Now it’s estimated that 60% of the music we consume is pirated in some way or another. Why? There is a theory, purported in books like “Free” and “Economies of Abundance” that the value of things like images, music, movies, and other media will always tend to zero in the long run (like your survival rate). So how does one make money on something with a declining perception of monetary value like a music album?


Well, first off, in the traditional model of the music industry there was no real-time accounting and the administration of selling music was very inefficient. In the new model, such as with iMusicianDigital the content is user generated whenever possible. An artist creates an account, uploads the album as uncompressed audio and that music is distributed to iTunes, Amazon, etc. The musician sees real-time stats for where the music is bought, what countries, how much, when, and is paid in a timely manner.


How successful an artist is financially is dependent on much more than the distribution system. The savvy musician needs to build a fan base, often through live shows (connect the poetry to the reader) and now through social networking tools like Facebook, MySpace, etc. It’s like anything else, you need some way to connect to the fan base and develop a community.


iMusicianDigital is attempting to fill that niche, that area of the music industry which is in flux. Artists upload their album and a little while later it’s available on iTunes, Amazon, etc. It’s interesting for me to learn about this stuff, because I want to the a similar thing with self-published books. Seeing how music is distributed and promoted online is similar to the publishing-on-demand business models for books, putting the promotion and marketing of the material in the hands of the creator.


Raphael Briner from HyperWeek gave the first presentation of the night about developing online social networking communities (think Facebook) for businesses. Why do businesses need his company? Because it’s too hard to build the platforms up from scratch. A few examples were shown including stackoverflow.com and it’s cool to hear about the development of this stuff. However, since I’m a consumer and am now overloaded with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, my blog and Flickr, I stood around wondering when I’m going to actually start shooting pictures again (yes, my mind wanders, the result of too many social networking sites).


The last presentation was for Oskope, the visual search and find design I’ve always new was possible, and continually frustrated when it didn’t exist. The concept of Oskope was originally presented two years ago, but this was the first I’d seen of it (I’m often oblivious to the world, I admit it). The idea of Oskope is to present products as images, allowing you to search visually and have the image products grouped in a certain way that you can better find what you were looking for. Ever tried searching for “Shoes” on Amazon? I’ve even tried using eBags to find a cool leather bag, and ended up going to Scaramanga in the UK. To be fair, Scaramanga sells some of the coolest vintage bags I could imagine (perhaps I’m just shallow) but the point is that sites like Amazon are really a cluster-fuck to search through unless you specifically know what you want (or just accept what they want to see to you).


For me Oskope is a window into how online shopping should be done. But the technology is distributed in a licensing model, and till now I never knew it existed. So where is the value in it? Promote it, get in online stores, revolutionize my online buying experience. If Oskope gets ported to Android (and as well the iPhone and iPad) I think it will really take off, as it’s the exact type of shopping experience a touch device consumer will love.




Web Monday Zurich #12

Lazy_Art_IIMy mind is still bleeding with inspiration from Web Monday Zurich #12. I sometimes paint and at some point I get into a sort of trance with the colors and shapes that paint themselves on to the canvas – the madness takes over and I think I’ll crawl out of my skin. I admit this is an overly dramatic way to describe my reaction to a Geek gathering about web startups, but I don’t watch much TV, and never got into drugs – so it stands to reason that I have to get my kicks from somewhere – and in die Schweiz, there’s no Route 66. I keep thinking that one day I’ll get bored at these web gatherings but my mind is always on fire by the end of the night and I count the days till the next one. There were three topics at Web Monday Zurich #12 including, Memonic.com, the UBS Web 2.0 contest winners were revealed, and HowToPedia.org got my neurons moving. It was held at the offices of LIIP/Nektoon, and drinks were sponsored by UBS.


memonic_pageMemonic


Dorian Selz from Nektoon presented Memonic – a website where you “keep the essential” of your web journeys and save only what you need. I first saw Memonic at the UX Chuchi where we discussed their user interface and overall design. The current site looks a lot tighter than the initial offering and is serious competitor for a site I will actually use day to day. Basically, with Memonic you save elements of webpage you visit, and then organize those elements on your Memonic account. It was developed based on the needs Dorian and his colleagues saw as well as their experiences in their own web travels. Basically you go to a webpage, then click on a bookmark for Memonic, and you then can pick paragraphs of text, pictures, make multiple selection, basically click whatever is on the webpage, and these elements are saved to your account. Or you just bookmark the site as well. The point of course is that you just take those pieces which you need, and then can access that information quickly. You can also export that information in an email, to a twitter account, facebook, and also to a smart phone. This is great for traveling and really takes information storage beyond bookmarking, and therefore much more useful in daily life. These saved elements can be organized into sets on your account and that way organized. It’s similar to tagging, and then clicking on a set and getting all the saved information. Naturally you can have multiple sets, as pieces of information rarely fit in only one category, which is more how we store and access information in the brain.



“But, how do you make money?”


The business plan is always the first question at Web Monday during the question and answer session. Basically Memonic currently offers a free service, and later will offer a paid service with more functionality. These models are on a Business to Customer (B2C) design, but they also have ambitions to do Business to Business (B2B) to fulfill the needs of companies. Also in the future there are plans to actually use the information you’ve stored on Memonic as a search filter while you surf the web. So, it will be possible to analyze the stuff you’ve saved to Memonic, and use that as a filter to direct internet searches, which means a user should end up with more relevant search results (relevant to their needs) – very cool. When I think of competitors to Memonic I think of Zootool, but there’s also a US site called Evernote (which I had never heard of). I like Zootool because it’s based around saving imagery (the downside is that it doesn’t do text like Memonic), and is more of a visual-media/micro-blogging/almost-like-Flickr service, which also reminds me of Tumblr. Zootool operates very similar to Memonic when it comes to saving content and in my opinion currently has better social network integration (easier to share stuff) – but I see a lot of potential with Memonic for the future.


ubs_logo.jpgUBS Web 2.0


So, basically UBS sponsored a contest to learn about Web 2.0 and banking applications. Andreas Hoffman and his colleagues awarded 5000 CHF for the three best presentation of ideas concerning what UBS should be doing with web 2.0 to connect with their customers. Winners included Go beyond ebanking today (Roland Studer), Collaborative Filtering (Amancio Bouza), and UBS Super Trader (Martin Moser and Roger Singer). To a certain extent, the presented ideas were not ground breaking in the sense of new technology, but rather applying existing ideas to the question of Web 2.0 and UBS banking applications. But this is how many great shifts in technology occur, not by totally new inventions, but by interpreting existing technology in new ways and applying them to new areas (Idea Generation and Development – Startup 2009 Basel). Overall many ideas were similar to what is currently being done in other places like Amazon.com or other websites which focus on customer interaction. The point was to apply those principles to a UBS business model. In my opinion the main idea is to give more freedom of interaction to the client, and not keep them fully dependent on the client advisor. I sent in a entry as well, basically I said they need to empower the Web 2.0 client, but I don’t think I was really able to communicate the concept I have in my head. Roland posted his entry to his blog in a post titled, Go beyond ebanking of today.


I think UBS should be awarded some sort of uber Web 2.0 Technology award for their efforts and I’m happy to say I’m a UBS banking customer, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with. The banking world is generally seen as having linear thinking and business practices. I’ve been reading/listening to “Break from the Pack – How to succeed in a Copycat Economy” and I’m really impressed that UBS is taking initiative to educate themselves on the Web 2.0 opportunities. They’re helping to define the future of banking instead of waiting for someone else to do it, but without knowing what the eventual outcome will be for their profits. This is the exact type of dynamic, non-linear thinking companies should be doing to break from the pack and lead their industries. Plus, Andreas Hoffmann came to the Zurich web community and partnered with Dania Gerhardt (Amazee.com) to setup the competition. It’s good for UBS, good for the participants, good for technology and idea development, and there’s more to come. UBS also plans on putting together a small consultancy team from three of the competition participants to do a business study and presumably help develop their Web 2.0 platform, really awesome initiative – they should get a write up in Forbes.


logo_howtopediaHowToPedia.org


It was the last presentation of the night that really set my mind on fire. As my first beer was wearing off and before I had time to grab another one, Maud Châtelet talked about HowToPedia.org, a non-profit website with the goal of empowering people in developing countries and enabling for autonomous, sustainable development in their lives. Maud started by showing two world maps. On the first was plotted the areas of poverty. On the second, the number of languages within a certain geographic region. If you superimpose onto the other, they more or less match up perfectly. The basic conclusion is that difficulty in communication is a significant factor in the development of people and technology in their lives. So how do we empower people to change that trend?


poverty-lanuage-map


The goal of HowToPedia is to manage and distribute practical knowledge to people throughout the world, which they can use to improve the quality of their lives. To me this is like empowering the engineer in all of us, no matter our educational background. I personally think everyone is a poet and an engineer, an artist and a scientist, and that you don’t need to study in a university to practice these things in your life. So, through the website, practical knowledge is presented such as, purifying water, how to build a windmill, or even making sandals from old tires. To reduce communication barriers a goal is to translate this information into various languages, so that a maximum number of people can use it. This type of information exists on other sites, but the point is for howtopedia.org to be the main place for knowledge management, so that various organizations aren’t duplicating their efforts and wasting resources. The information is for free, but the site needs money to work, so at the moment there’s a focus on fundraising. I’ve been interested in getting into a program like this. I know a couple people doing Engineering Without Borders in the US, but I haven’t been able to find EWB in Switzerland, plus I love the idea of empowering through knowledge distribution, so it looks like howtopedia could be a good way for me to give back with my engineering skills.


So, Web Monday Zurich rocked hardcore. If you’re interested in more info on the Startup scene around Switzerland check out :


StartWerk.ch (their German reporting on Web Monday #12)


Think of attending StartupCamp Switzerland 2010 on Feb. 13th in Basel


Check out Web Monday Zurich on Amazee.

Web Monday Zurich #10

WalimexOcta150cmWeb Monday Zurich is a meeting setup on Amazee.com to enable interaction between people in the web community around Zurich.  Startups have a chance to present their ideas and get feedback, everyone has a chance to mingle and network, feed your brain and your innovation side in social atmosphere, how can you not go?


I wanted to attend my first Web Monday at the end of August, companies like MAGMAG Magazines were presenting, and being a photographer looking for new ways to present visual content, I was eager to see what was up.  But that Monday I had just flown back from shooting a wedding in Rome, had picked up some sort of sickness, and took down the wrong address.  So I ended up looking for Feldstrasse 113, a fictions address just different enough from Feldstrasse 133 to make me think I was going out of my mind.


Web Monday #10 was held in the Amazee office at the Technopark in Zurich (I was there before for a booster party), and my mind was sharp, so it was problem to find and attend. I could have stayed home and played with my new Octabox, but I was itching to infuse my mind with something new.


Two companies presented, GetYourGuide.com and StreamForge.


getyouguideGetYourGuide.com


So, there’s like a thousand travel website on the net, you can book a flight, book a hotel, book a car, book a train…but what about booking “an experience?”  GetYourGuide is a newly out of Beta website Startup which seeks to connect trip provides (suppliers) with people looking for travel experiences (customers).  The idea is you head to the website and and quickly search through destinations or activities and quickly find a cool experience, like a city tour, bike tour, etc.  I see a lot of potential for GetYourGuide, because I’ve been in a position to use it many times.  During the Spring I was in San Diego and L.A. for a few weeks.  In San Diego I was trying to book a kite boarding class, in L.A. I was searching for the best graffiti.  I ended up buying some Bratz dolls and shooting them on the streets of the cities.  So, in the end I didn’t learn to kite board, but did have a cool experience.  However, I didn’t end up kite boarding because by the time I found a school, I had run out of time and had to fly back to Zurich.  For a travel consumer such as myself, GetYourGuide can offer a lot of value, and I’ll use it to find a cool trip in the next city I visit.


For trip suppliers GetYourGuide is attractive, because it connects the local suppliers to the global customer directly.  It includes a very nice back-end with analytics software to help suppliers see how people are visiting their trip listings.  At the moment GetYourGuide is targeting popular destinations, and finding trip suppliers in those main cities.  This is nice strategy, as they can bring in revenue quickly, and then expand to targeting trip suppliers in broader destinations.  This is what interests me the most, because if you’re looking for a cattle driving experience in New Mexico and you live in Stuttgart, it’s not so easy to do.  I also had problems in the past contacting mountain guides in Bolivia when I flew down there.  I think if GetYourGuide expands into these areas and eventually targets specialty suppliers, they’ll set themselves apart from their competitors like Viator.com and have a web company offering a lot of value to their customers and suppliers.  I’m looking forward to a travel experience-enhanced future.


streamforgeStreamForge


So, when Barack Obama was giving his inauguration speech, so many people tuned in that the video feed was unavailable, the internet was broken - overloaded, users were blocked, their experience ruined.  I didn’t watch the speech, but I do recall trying to watch the 2009 Leica webcast during the launch of their new cameras, the S2, X1, and M9.  Their servers were overloaded and I had to read about it on a forum, how disappointed I was.  How can we avoid this in the future?  By using Peer-to-Peer strategies like those employed in LimeWire and previously in Napster (and now many others).


Instead of downloading the video or audio content directly from a website, parts are downloaded from other people who are downloading the same content.  This removes the load from the main server, and enables people to maintain their enjoyment of the internet without overloading the system.  This isn’t a new idea (in principle) it was tried (and failed) in the past.  But StreamForge is using technology developed from the latest research at ETH Zurich, and like many technologies, the subsequent try is often far better than the first attempt.


Like (as far as I know) all Peer-to-Peer sharing platforms, StreamForge does require that their software be downloaded and installed by users, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to upload data and remove the load on the main server.  But this presents a potential problem, because many consumers are wary of installing random programs which are connected to the internet, even though it may not be any different than using a webpage.  Also, this is a technology which the main server companies need to adopt and trust in.  If these two barriers can be overcome, then StreamForge has a bright future.  There are other examples of companies with similar problems.  Flash was introduced something like many, many years ago, but it’s really only in the last few years that it’s gained wide acceptance, and nearly every web browser has it installed.


Brass Tacs


Web Monday #10 rocked, I love seeing how different technologies develop and how new companies launch and present themselves. It’s very inspiring, and makes you think in new ways (at least, it works for me). I had an excellent time at Web Monday #10, I’m sad I missed #9, and am looking forward to #11, which will include presentations by Prof. Manfred Vogel from FHNW, Joaquin Cuenca Abela from Panoramio and Andreas Hoffmann from UBS (there’s a contest in the works).


The next Web Monday is coming up on Nov. 30th, location to be announced.  Check out the Web Monday Zurich magazine on Amazee for further details.  Also, STARTWERK.CH was a German write-up on Web Monday #10.

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.


docwingtips-1Retro


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.


Arience


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.


startup_camp_09015


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.

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.