Category Archives: Uncategorized

VITweet

troy holden

Little known fact: there are over 386 trillion “Tweet This” buttons on the internet today, and 6 billion more are being added every second.

OK, I totally made up that fact, but you don’t have to be a fictitious Portland hipster to know that almost every new piece of content has a precious little bird slapped on it.   However, even our founding fathers would have to admit that not all tweets are created equal.  Hypothetically speaking, let’s pretend for a moment that I’m a self-promotional blogger who can’t wait for the world to spread my bloggy goodness across the web faster than the fried shrimp runs out at an Old Country Buffet.  Given a choice, would I rather have 15 tweets from a couple of smoobies (social + media + noobies) or one tweet from someone who has 50,000 followers?

Today’s idea is a “Tweet This” plug-in that detects the Klout score of the reader and allows you to compensate influential users for tweeting our your content. Publishers would be able to add some cash to their account, and then set various thresholds for how much they are willing to offer people at various levels of influence.

For example, I may be willing to pay $1/tweet for people with 5,000 followers (or corresponding Klout scores), $5/tweet for people with 50,000 followers, and $25/tweet for uber-influencers with over 500,000 followers.  Influential Twitter users can visit the VITweet.com website to see which content providers are providing the highest bounties, and choose to tweet out the content that they want to share with their followers.

There are a few things I like about this idea.  For one, it fits in with the existing workflow of many sites.  There are tons of “Tweet This” buttons out there, and it would only take a few minutes to swap out existing buttons with a VITweet.  Second, there’s a very clear path to monetization (by taking a 5% cut of all payments).  Third, it allows people who have spent a long time building and curating a large social media following to unlock some of that value in an authentic way, by choosing to tweet out content that they think their followers would enjoy.

What do you guys think of this idea?  If you’ve got any thoughts on this one, post ‘em in the comments below.

I’m Back, Baby!

A day after my 28th birthday, I started this blog with a simple idea.  Each day I would post a new startup idea.  Exactly four years later, here we are.  Yesterday I hit the big 3-2, and I’ve made the decision to relaunch my blog.

As a cursory glance at the archive list to your right will tell you, I totally failed to keep to my daily promise, especially in the past year.  But, thanks to a little encouragement from a few friends, I decided to give it another go.

ASAD 2.0 will be similar to the original version, with one important difference.  A lot has happened over the past four years, and especially over the past 9 months.  Specifically, I made the huge leap from my comfy corporate life to the wild and wonderful world of startups.  It’s had a huge impact on the way that I think through ideas, evaluate opportunities, and ponder the real-world practicalities of bringing one of these bad boys to life.

I’ll be posting a few new startup ideas shortly, but if you’d like to hear more about what I’ve been up to lately, check out this awesome story that the talented James Gardner of the Seattle Met magazine wrote about me, this blog, and the entire Giant Thinkwell saga.  It’s been a fun ride and it’s insane to think that it all started here with a simple idea on this blog.  Stay tuned for some new ideas, and please let me know what you guys have been up to since I’ve been away in the comments below.

From Microsoft Lay-Off to TechStars Acceptance…in One Day

It was July 7th, 2010.  The day started off same as every other day.  I slogged through my 45 minute morning commute out to the Microsoft campus, the same one I’d been doing every day for the past five years.  When I got in, I caught up on some Email, grabbed some coffee, and then walked down to my manager’s office for what I thought was going to be a quick update on our plans for the upcoming fiscal year.  I stepped into his office and was surprised to see he was not alone.  Our team’s HR rep was sitting in there with him.  It took me about 5 seconds to realize what was going on.  “Microsoft has decided to restructure the operations of our team, resulting in the elimination of several positions…”  My stomach sank.  I was getting laid off.

The rest of the meeting was a blur of paperwork, though there was only one thing that was on my mind – what the hell was I going to tell my wife?  She’s an amazing person and incredibly supportive, but making that phone call to her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.  I headed home and dove headfirst into the pile of paperwork I was handed on my way out.  While I was still completely in shock, amid the feelings of anger and helplessness I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of relief. 

Working at Microsoft was an amazing opportunity for me and while I had a ton of respect for the people I was working with on a daily basis, I had known for a while now that it wasn’t the right place for me long term.  As anyone who has read my blog for the past three years could tell, my true passion wasn’t with Microsoft or any other large company – it was with startups.  And though I was still reeling from the big news, in the back of my mind I knew that I had one shot-in-the-dark opportunity to turn this whole thing around. 

Over the past few weeks, I had been going through the application process for TechStars Seattle.  For those who don’t know, TechStars is a technology incubation program that was started out of Boulder, CO and was expanding to Seattle for the first time in the fall of 2010.  I had been following TechStars for a while and was stoked to hear that it was coming here to Seattle.  Some friends and I had applied with an idea we built out at a Startup Weekend event in March, and to our surprise and amazement, managed to make it to the top 30 finalists out of a total of over 400 applicants.  The decision to choose the final 10 teams was supposed to come out any day, but I just couldn’t stand to wait any longer.  I dashed off a quick Email to the lead of TechStars Seattle, crossed my fingers, and hit send. 

“You’re in. You guys will get an Email later today.”  The Email came a few hours later, and I literally can’t even describe the excitement and joy and relief I felt from reading those words.  I couldn’t believe we were actually going to be participating in a program that I had such a deep respect and admiration for.  I went from sitting in traffic on the way to my ordinary corporate job in the morning to being an official full-time founder of a startup by the end of the day.  Pretty incredible.

I’m not going to rehash my entire TechStars experience to date, but I will say, the past two months have gone above and beyond my lofty expectations.  It’s been intense, but the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had so far have already put us and our startup in a fantastic position to succeed.  I’ll have more to say after the end of the program in mid-November, so stay tuned.  And in the meantime, if you have any questions about the program or want to be a part of our initial beta program, drop me a line at kevin@giantthinkwell.com.    

Interested in applying to be part of the next TechStars class in NYC?  Applications are open now: http://www.techstars.org/nyc   Also, the new book “Do More Faster” by TechStars founders David Cohen and Brad Feld is now available for pre-order at Amazon here.

Five More Ideas for Startup Weekend

learnthatnameshot

Startup Weekend Seattle is right around the corner, and you know what that means: time for yet another list of simple ideas that I think would make good startup weekend projects. 

But before we jump into it, I first want to say a HUGE congratulations to Eric Koester  and the team behind “Learn that Name”.  At the last Startup Weekend I attended, they built a very cool little iPhone game to help you remember the names and faces of acquaintances you meet at events and conferences.  And today, they were acquired!  Great to see an exit for a very talented team, and I’m really excited to see what teams come up with this time around.

Anyway, here are the ideas.  Please, please, please feel free to take any of these and run with them if you’re so inclined.  There is a catch, though – if you use one of these ideas and you do eventually get acquired, you owe me exactly one beer every time we run into each other at a bar at any point in the future.

Gym Class

Remember back in sixth grade when every day you had the opportunity to spend an hour every day getting large rubber balls thrown directly at your head?  And the fun of trying not to get last place in the Presidential Physical Fitness test (thanks, LBJ)?  With this app, you can relive classic childhood gym class games like dodgeball, rope climbing, kickball, and towel snapping!

That 80’s Picture

Some say the 80’s are back.  To those people I say – when did the 80’s ever leave?  With this app, you can take a picture with your mobile camera and then add totally tubular 80’s-style effects, like neon borders, flock-of-seagull hairstyles, and even the option to take your jeans and tightroll them!  Once you’re done creating a radical 80’s photo, you can then post it on Twitter, share with your friends on Facebook, or save the photo in an avatar-friendly size.

Thumb Wars

Credit where credit is due – this one came from my lovely and talented wife, and I absolutely love it.  The idea is to use an iPhone as a platform for an augmented reality thumb wrestling match.

Here’s how it works. You would hold one end of the phone, and your friend would hold the other.  The goal is to use your thumb to tap either the “attack” or “defend” buttons in an attempt to wear your opponent down.  Once your buddy’s thumbs get worn down, the “pin!” button appears and you need to press it as hard as you can in an attempt to pin your opponent. 

iMagic Eye

With the iPad coming out shortly, why not take Steve Jobs at his word and make this thing into a truly “magical and revolutionary device” with the iMagic Eye app? 

Don’t remember Magic Eye?  These were those annoying-yet-awesome images that looked like a random series of dots…until after half an hour of crossing your eyes, you experienced two things: a 3-D image of a sailboat and a migraine.  Technically it’d be pretty easy to pull together in a weekend, and think of all the fun images you can make into autostereograms for the end of the weekend demo?

Raising John Stamos

A little history here – at the first startup weekend I attended, I pitched this idea and it got a great response.  However, it never got off the ground as we couldn’t quite get enough people together to build this out.  It’s always been one of my favorite ideas, and I’ve vowed to someday bring it to life (hint, hint). 

Raising John Stamos is a Facebook app that follows the basic format as the Tamagotchi or (fluff)Friends virtual pet – but with a twist.

Instead of raising a cute little fuzzy animal, you would instead start off with a baby John Stamos.  Your job is to nurture your little Stamos from a fussy little baby into an international superstar.  Along the way, your Stamos would evolve from being an out-of-work waiter to landing his first TV commercial to getting cast in a pilot to becoming the uncle we all wished we had, Uncle Jessie in Full House. 

To find out which idea I’m going to tackle and to stay up-to-date on the progress, you can follow me on Twitter at @astartupaday.  Can’t wait to see all you Seattlites at Startup Weekend!

How To Encode an MP3 Using Twitter

headphones

I should probably put a massive disclaimer on this post noting that this is just a crackpot idea I came up with, I haven’t actually tested this (nor do I plan to) and there are probably a ton of real-world issues with this approach, both technical as well as legal.  So, yeah – don’t try this at home.

A simplistic refresher on compression

(Editors note: as my very smart commenters have pointed out, actually *compressing* data using Twitter doesn’t make any sense.  This post is about *encoding* data using Twitter.  This part is just a refresh on the basic concepts, feel free to skip ahead if you already know this stuff.)

It’s been a couple of years since my computer science days, but I do remember the basics of an simple compression algorithm.  First, remember that all digital files are made up of a series of 1’s and 0’s.  Let’s take this pattern as an example:

0010 0100 0001 0000 0100 0001 001

The key to this compression algorithm is to find long repeating patterns, and use a lookup table to replace them with shorter ones.  Let’s take another look at our example, with spaces inserted to highlight the patterns:

001 001 000001 000001 000001 001

Now, let’s make a quick lookup table:

Pattern Replacement
001 A
000001 B

 

We can now represent those bits as follows:

AABBBA

And there we go!  Our 27 characters were replaced with 6 characters, and even adding in the extra space for the lookup table, it’s still significantly smaller. 
Continue reading

Kevin’s Answers

googleanswers

This image might just have the highest picture-to-idea-relevance percentage of all time.  Bless you, Flickr (and your benevolent Yahoolian overloads).

Tangent #1:

Craig’s List.  Judy’s Book.  Angie’s List.  Tom’s Hardware. 

Adding a first name to your website’s name is a very effective tactic, especially in a situation with the following criteria:

  • The site is geared towards helping a user make a decision
  • Trust/authenticity is an important aspect of the decision-making process
  • A lo-fi solution is “good enough”, and in fact may be a better overall experience than expensive, flashy sites

Tangent #2:

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Google recently launched a new phone called the Nexus One.  One of the more intriguing aspects of the phone is the release of a new Android feature that adds voice-to-text transcription to any text field.  I fully expect this feature to be standard fare for modern smartphone OSs within the next year.

One important implication of this change is the formatting of the average search query.  Instead of using a series of keywords as a search query (i.e. “Chinese Restaurant Seattle Yelp”), users who are speaking are more likely to ask direct questions as opposed to playing keyword bingo (i.e. “Where is the best Chinese restaurant within five miles?”) 

Tangent #3:

If you haven’t yet read the mind-bending Wired article on a company called Demand Media (and Mike Arrington’s poignant response), you really ought to.  As a passionate wantrepreneur, I’m incredibly torn by the rise of “Fast Food Content” movement.  On one hand, I hate to see thoughtful, hand-crafted content get overrun by lowest-common-denominator drivel.  On the other hand, I can’t help but get excited for the potential business opportunities this new model could unlock.

The Idea:

So with the devil seated firmly on my shoulder, I offer up today’s idea: Kevin’s Answers.  The idea is a very simple site that provides short, specific, and direct answers to the most popular questions currently being asked on search engines. 

While algorithms could be employed to determine the right questions and to help with the answers, one aspect that would set this site apart would be the fact that every single question on the site would be answered/approved by the owner of the site (that’s me!).  Hence, the “Kevin” in “Kevin’s List”. 

Would this take an extremely long time to build?  Of course.  But that’s the competitive advantage.  The key here is that the site would be so simple to set up that any development time would be replaced by hours upon hours of researching and answering questions. The site would be ad-supported, and as time went on, the unique brand and difficult-to-compile content would potentially become an acquisition target for a search company looking to improve their semantic search capabilities.

What do you think of this idea?  Would love to hear thoughts on this one.  And if you want to know what I’m eating for lunch every day (spaghetti with meatballs!), you can follow me on Twitter here: @astartupaday

2010, Micropayments, and You

penny

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” – Yogi Berra

A few weeks ago I sat down to join my blogging brethren for the obligatory “My Predictions for 2010” post.  However, after seeing the strain that the massive influx of self-importantism was putting on the Internet as a whole, I decided to scrap my post and wait for the dust to settle a bit before adding my two cents.

That, and I was too lazy to finish the post before leaving for my holiday break.  Which was amazing, by the way, thanks for asking.

After looking at my predictions for the sweeping waves of change that were bearing down upon the new year, I decided to take a step back and focus on the one big prediction that I think will have a major impact on both the company in question and the startup ecosystem as a whole:

Facebook will successfully launch a micropayments system

Facebook has done a fairly good job making money to date, but in order to go public, they need to tap into something much more significant.  One big opportunity they have in front of them is to roll out a payment system that will compete head-to-head with PayPal.  It will enable trusted payments between people in your social graph, 1-click payments on sites that have Facebook Connect installed, and (eventually, and crucially) mobile payments via your phone. 

This will be Facebook’s “AdSense” moment

Just like AdSense paved the way for the ad-based revenue model that fueled the Web 2.0 movement, I believe that Facebook’s micropayment model will have the same effect on the web startup landscape in 2010 and 2011.  Here are a few examples of how this new model might work:

  • Online news sites can switch from a subscription model to a micropayment-per-article model.  This will especially help smaller niche news sites that don’t publish enough articles to justify a monthly subscription fee.
  • SaaS providers can offer a pay-per-use model.  For example, SlideShare could allow users to post 50 slides for free, and charge $.05/slide  for each additional upload.
  • Micropayments could be used as a quality bar to prevent spam for user generated content.  For example, if a popular blog could charge $.01/comment, it might be enough to make the “FIRST!!!!11!ONE” morons think twice before posting.
  • Q and A sites can use micropayments as incentive to get quality answers to questions.  For example, I might offer $.25 to someone who can tell me the name of the grammar robot that Lisa Simpson invented in S12E18: Trilogy of Error.

These are just a few quick examples off the top of my head, and as with any new innovation, the most interesting ones are yet to be discovered.

OK, so there’s my big prediction.  Keep an eye out on April 21-22, at Facebook’s annual dev conference, to see if/how this one is going to pan out. 

If you want the opportunity to laugh in my face on 1/1/11 when this one doesn’t come true, you should probably follow me on Twitter at @astartupaday.

Video Genome Project

tv

What do the following online videos all have in common?

  1. Chad Vader
  2. Ask a Ninja
  3. Fuller House

Besides the fact that they star three people who have never been in my kitchen, they are also three of my favorite online videos.  I never really thought much about it, but if I really think hard about it, here are a few common traits:

  • Irreverent humor
  • Strong pop culture references
  • Shorter than 5 minutes but longer than 30 seconds
  • Have a bit of a geeky vibe to them

pandora

About ten years ago, a group of researchers started the Music Genome Project in an attempt to find similarities across a wide range of songs, which eventually grew into the Pandora personalized music service.  Today’s idea is to use that same basic technique on online videos to build a Video Genome Project, and eventually a personalized streaming video service similar to Pandora. 

What’s nice about this idea is that there is already a very solid blueprint in place outlining exactly how to build something like this, what the monetization options are, how to market it – just follow the same path as the MGP/Pandora team.

I’m very big on the idea that the Internets and TV are on a fast convergence path, and Internets-based, lean-back experiences like this have a ton of potential.  Instead of focusing on simply aggregating content like the countless other online video sites, by focusing on the backend and building a unique and valuable data set, this service would be in a great position to deliver a ton of value powering personalized streaming video sites right around the time that TV/Internets convergence goes mainstream.

What do you guys think about this one?  To stay up-to-date on my latest ideas, you can follow me on Twitter: @astartupaday

Five Ideas for Turkey Day

turkey

Ever since my great-grandparents sailed across the Pacific in 1492 and landed at Plymouth Rock to teach the Native Americas the proper way to carve a turkey and watch football, it’s been a time-honored tradition in my family for the most athletically-challenged first-born male of the household to kick off the holiday season with a cornucopia of Web 2.0 startup ideas.

OK, I made most of that up.  Except for the ideas part.  And the athletically-challenged part.  Here are the ideas.

1. Martha Stewart (De)liv(er)ing

I’m in charge of the Thanksgiving feast this year, and I’ve spent a good 5-6 hours so far looking up recipes online (Martha Stewart actually does have some great T-day stuff), making a list of all the ingredients, and driving from store to store to do all the grocery shopping.  Amazon Fresh just started grocery delivery service in Seattle, so why combine the two and make a web site that pulls in popular Thanksgiving recipes, gives you an option to choose the ones you want to make, and then creates an Amazon Fresh list with all the necessary ingredients.  You could remove any items you already have, and then with one click you could have everything delivered right to your door.

It’s a good thing.

2. Farmville: This Time, It’s Real

Farmville:This Time, It’s Real is a twist on the popular Farmville Facebook game.  However, instead of having a completely virtual farm, the game would hook up with real-life turkey farmers and link each in-game turkey to a live turkey on their farm.  Users would purchase their turkey in the spring, and through the online interface they could remotely feed, water, and care for the turkey.  Once Thanksgiving rolls around, the turkey would be butchered and shipped to the player to be used for their Thanksgiving dinner. 

And before you dismiss this one as my usual too-far-out-there ideas, you might want to check this out.

3. Persecutr

With all the shopping and chaos and gluttony that our modern Thanksgiving brings, it’s important to remember the true historical spirit of this holiday.  To help people experience the same religious persecution that sent the original Pilgrims to America, persecutr.com allows users to enter their religious beliefs, and then watch a 3-hour streaming video of an angry English guy berating you and your religion.  Fun for the whole family!

Bonus: monetization tip – insert 30-second commercials into the video stream, Hulu-style!

4. iTurkey

This mobile app has everything you need to cook the perfect turkey.  Just enter in the weight of the turkey, pop the turkey into the oven, and hit go.  The iTurkey app displays a timer to count down the proper cooking time, with reminders when it’s time for basting.  The app could also display tips around stuffing the turkey, seasoning the outside (my method: cook some bacon until it’s crispy, brush the bacon grease over the turkey, and rub on chopped bacon, salt, pepper, rosemary, and sage), and carving techniques.

5. Tom’s Revenge

Check out this premise for a video game.  It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and Tom, a hand-traced turkey cut out of construction paper for a class project, is unceremoniously thrown away to make room for the Christmas decorations.  Tom decides to take revenge, and using weapons such as a turkey baster flamethrower and cornucopia bazooka that fires gourds, Tom roams the neighborhood taking down any Christmas decorations in his path. 

You play as Tom, battling against classic Christmas foes such as the Nutcracker Army, Frosty the Killman, and the dreaded Fruitcake of Death.  Along the way, search through trash cans to find other discarded Thanksgiving decorations to power up your weapon in preparation for the final showdown with…yes, you guessed it.  The Festivus pole.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  I’ll be back with more ideas after the long weekend, follow me on Twitter at @astartupaday for updates on my latest postings.

Why Washing Machines Suck

washday

When I look back over the 30 years that I’ve been on this planet, the amount of technological progress we’ve made as a society has been nothing short of stunning.  It’s impacted the way that we work, play, communicate, and ridicule those “who” are less grammatically “inclined” than we are.  And yet, despite all of the incredible innovation out there today, we still have a few things that just plain suck.   

The washing machine is one of them.

And not just the washing machine itself, but the entire process of transforming dirty clothes into clean clothes is broken.  Let’s take a look at my laundry workflow.

First, at the end of the day, dirty clothes are taken off and tossed into a laundry basket, where they are piled up in a heap left to sit for about a week.  Once there are enough clothes for a load of laundry, I manually carry the clothes down a flight a stairs to the washing machine.  I need to separate the clothes into whites and darks, start up the machine, and measure out the right amount of soap. 

While the washing machine is running, it’s having a considerable impact on energy and water use.   An average washing machine accounts for 14% of household water usage, and emits 160 lbs of CO2 each year (source).  Also, most laundry detergents contains phosphates and other chemicals that can be harmful to the environment.

Once the machine is done after about an hour, I need to go back downstairs, pull wet clothes out of the machine and put them into the drier.  After checking the lint trap to make sure that it’s clean and adding a drier sheet, I need to set the timer and wait another hour for the clothes to dry.  While running, each load burns another 4.4 lbs of CO2 (source).

After the clothes are done drying, that’s where the real fun begins.  I bring the clothes upstairs (quickly, to avoid wrinkles), and go through the process of folding and hanging up clothes to put back in the closet and drawer.

Along with the time involved with this process, there’s also considerable expense.  The washer and dryer each cost between $500 and $1000, and they need special electrical outlets and water hookups to run.  You also need a fairly large amount of space in your house/apartment dedicated to this task.  And, of course, if you don’t have enough space, you need to load up your clothes and spend a few hours at a laundry mat. 

OK – so I know I sound like a huge whiner, but the point I’m trying to make is that there is this process that has multiple pain points across time, money, and environmental impact.  Any innovation that could greatly reduce or eliminate those issues would surely result in the potential for massive profits.  And yet, I haven’t seen any progress made to apply our 2009 knowledge to fix a broken 1930’s solution.

The fundamental question is: why?

This actually reminds me a lot of the situation we’re in now with automobiles.  While cars today are more advanced than previous models, we’re still using the same old core technology wrapped in a nicer package.  One reason that a major change such as a move to electric cars hasn’t taken place yet is that gas-powered cars have such a massive legacy infrastructure of gas stations that have been built out over the past 100 years. 

However, I feel like that’s a solvable problem – the real problem is that the general population has a set perception of what a car is supposed to be.  Switching over to something completely new and different is a huge leap of faith, and as you increase the cost and necessity of the item, you also reduce the chance that someone will branch out and try something new. 

That’s why it’s so easy to innovate on the web, where trying out something new will only cost a few minutes of your time, and so hard to innovate on something like a car (or washing machine), where the cost of choosing something new and risky has a massive economic impact in the case of failure.

So, despite the issues involved with brining a total new clothes-washing paradigm to market, let’s look at what a perfect cleaning workflow would look like.

First, let’s do away with the water.  That would take away the environmental impact of both the washing and drying, and would also take out the need to have a separate water hookup (which provides more flexibility in where it can be set up).

Next, forget this whole business of putting the clothes off a rack, into a pile, moving them around a bit, and placing them back on the rack.  Instead, I was to just take my clothes off at the end of the day and hang them back on the rack.  When I wake up in the morning, I want those garments that I hung up the night before to be clean and ready to wear again.

One way to do this is to add on a special compartment to one end of a closet.  Clothes that are hung up in the compartment could use a combination of ultraviolet light, ultrasonic waves, micro lasers, and specialized nanobots to both remove odors and spot-treat any spots or stains.  Once the clothes are cleaned, the compartment opens and the clothes are automatically moved into the main closet.   

Of course you could poke a hundred different holes in this plan (I’m looking at you, random Internets commenters!), but if some random nobody like me can crank out an idea like that in a few minutes, just imagine what kind of real progress we could make if some of the world’s smartest engineers and entrepreneurs got to work on this?

Edit: Here’s a link to some washing machine patents to see some of the latest innovations taking place.

So, what do you think?  Anyone else hate doing laundry as much as I do?  To stay update on my latest ideas and essays, you can follow me on Twitter at @astartupaday.