technology

UC Davis Startup Hub

I was honored to be invited to hear pitches from UC Davis students this past weekend as part of the 2017 Startup and Innovation Panel put on by the Startup Hub. UC Davis students are only two hours from San Francisco, but in many ways, in a different world. The Startup Hub aims to foster a startup culture among students on campus.

The students came from across the campus and there were some interesting ideas:

RoboNurse = in home medicine dispensary for the elderly

MarbleMosaic = a discovery app for college students to learn about student organizations and events

Culer.me = a color matching algorithm focused on apparel

VitalLinkTechnologies = a personal health alert system

Courser = a class discussion app for students and instructors

There's a lot of talent on campus and I hope to see more of Silicon Valley pay attention.

 

Technology and Income

Now take mobile apps and stir:

Matthew Crawford, in “The World Beyond Your Head,” contrasts the world of a “peon” airport lounge — saturated in advertising, filled with mesmerizing screens — with the quiet, ad-free world of a business lounge: “To engage in playful, inventive thinking, and possibly create wealth for oneself during those idle hours spent at an airport, requires silence. But other people’s minds, over in the peon lounge (or at the bus stop), can be ­treated as a resource — a standing reserve of purchasing power.”

~ Review of 'Reclaiming Conversation'

Who Benefits?

I wasn't surprised to hear that Udacity pivoted. I am one of those folks who signed up for the first artificial intelligence class taught by Professor Thrun. I didn't finish. But I knew as soon as I logged in what the fate of that course and offerings like it would be - not good. Why? Because there is no true innovation. A video is just a lecture. And I know from first-hand experience that Ivy league university professors are usually NOT good teachers. They are gifted intellects with impressive research backgrounds, but they often don't have the first clue how to formulate a lesson so that everyone in the room gets it.

Which brings me to the hubris of Silicon Valley technologists - of which I am one. To think we as technologists know how to educate is highly arrogant and frankly, plain ignorant.

But what's worse is that properly smacked in the face with this realization that we don't know what we're doing, what do we do? We create something for those who don't need it. We fail to help the people that could truly benefit from innovation.

Grrr.

 

Bespoke or Broken?

Custom apparel has been waiting to happen for over a decade. Over eight years ago I served on the board of a technology company called Archetype Solutions. They were a technology platform enabling the mass customization of apparel using online questions and an advanced algorithm.

At the time, scanning technologies were being used to grab a person's size and produce a custom article of clothing. Remember when Levi's put scanners in their stores and we all rushed out to try it? Now Levi's customization is more about the type of jean wash or patches instead of sizing.

The Archetype technology was purchased by a small group of insiders and repackaged as IndiDenim. When IndiDenim went out of business, the Archetype technology was sold to another group of hopeful technologists.

This is a concept that continues to persevere. Surprisingly, both the question and algorithm approach to size customization and scanning continue to spawn new companies. Here are just a few of the companies in the size customization space:

Scanning

1. Styku

2. Me-ality

Questions and Algorithm

1. Knot Standard

2. Clotheshor.se

3. Bleuflamme

4. Zyrra

Offline/online combo approaches

1. ProperSuit

2. Indochino

Visualizations

1. FaceCake

Started out as custom clothing but turned to e-commerce

1. Bonobos

2. JHilburn

3. American-Giant

Question is where are they now? I think the questions and algorithm approach has the best chance at getting traction, but right now I don't see how these types of companies become very large in the next decade. The only companies to have significant revenue of those listed above are those that turned to e-commerce.

Competition

Because a good idea should seem obvious, when you have one you'll tend to feel that you're late. Don't let that deter you. Worrying that you're late is one of the signs of a good idea. Ten minutes of searching the web will usually settle the question. Even if you find someone else working on the same thing, you're probably not too late. It's exceptionally rare for startups to be killed by competitors—so rare that you can almost discount the possibility. So unless you discover a competitor with the sort of lock-in that would prevent users from choosing you, don't discard the idea.

~ Paul Graham

The Mary Meeker Slide Deck

It's 112 Slides but the 2012 summary is simple: mobile is where it's at. Here's a round up of the companies (mainly hot start-ups) and innovations in various industries that she mentions in her report:

1. Life stories: Facebook's Timeline

2. News/Information Flow: Twitter

3. Note taking: Evernote

4. Drawing: Paper by Fiftythree

5. Photography: Instagr.am/Camera+/Hipstamatic

6. Diaries: Path

7. Scrapbooking: Pinterest

8. Magazines: Flipboard

9. Books: Kindle/iBooks

10. Music: Spotify

11. Sound Recording: SoundCloud

12. Video: YouTube/Netflix

13. Video Creation/Production: SocialCam/Viddy/GoPro

14. TV: YouTube/Bleacher Team Stream

15. Communication: Voxer

16. Navigation: Waze

17. Sports: Bleacher Report

18. Home Improvement: Houzz/One Kings Lane

19. Cabs: Uber

20. Yellow Pages: Yelp

21. Coupons/Local Services: Groupon

22. Cash registers: Square

23. Window shopping: Fab

24. Marketplaces: Etsy

25. Manufacturing: Zazzle/Shapeways

26. Personal Services: Zaarly/TaskRabbit/Fiverr

27. Funding: KickStarter

28. Lending: Lending Club

29. Business Collaboration: Salesforce/Yammer/Jive

30. Recruiting/Hiring: LinkedIn

31. Focus Groups: Affectiva

32. Signatures: DocuSign

33. Healthcare Access: ZocDoc/Teladoc

34. Education: Codecademy/Coursera/Khan Academy

35. Rewards/Satisfaction: Klout/FourSquare/Zynga

36. Crime Awareness: Crime Mapping

37. Thermostats: Nest

Areas where she didn't identify a company? Data - companies that can find a "needle in a haystack" or as I would put it, derive meaning from large data sets.  Looks like a big opportunity there.

Finally, it will be interesting to see where all these companies are one year from now.  You'll still be reading here, right?

Dating Sites

Online dating is not fun or particularly effective. When Match.com commercials come on and the announcer says, "1 out of 5 people meet online," my instantaneous reaction is, "That's only 20%!"  

Still, that isn't stopping folks from iterating on the model. Here is a list of the 2012 entrants.

Require Facebook:

1. Yoke.me

2. Skout

3. TheCompleteMe

4. CoffeeMeetsBagel (the twist here is only one match per day; playing the limited time/limited quantity e-commerce angle)

5. MyMatchmaker (here actual matchmakers do the matching)

 

Web Apps:

6. How About We (still a traditional online dating site with profile but concept is to propose dates)

7. FriendlyLook

 

Different Approaches:

8. Hitch.me (this uses your LinkedIn account)

9. Tawkify (dating via the phone with screening of matches by real people)

 

Offline:

10. MeSoFar (based in Chicago; dating by PowerPoint presentation - essentially flirting reduced quite literally to marketing)

11. Urban Girl Squad's Friend of a Friend Singles Party (based in NYC; modeled after Charlotte's "pass the trash" party)

 

Mobile:

12. Grindr/Blendr

13. SinglesAroundMe

 

There are, of course, a ton of dating sites out there, but these seem to be the new ones garnering buzz.

Happy dating!

Freelancer.com

Apparently the customer service at Freelancer.com is not good. At least according to many blogs, tweets and comments. Unfortunately, I didn't find this out until I encountered my own problem with the Freelancer service.

I was trying to deposit funds so that I could pay a freelancer for his work on the system and encountered all manner of problems.

 

Here's the error code I received: "Deposit Error! Sorry, deposit failed. Sorry, deposit failed. The transaction could not be completed due to a PayPal error. Please verify your payment source in your PayPal account and try again. Please retry deposit again."

 

I did what the error instructed me. All was great in Paypal. I was using my bank credit card through the Paypal gateway so I knew there was not a balance issue. Still, I kept running into that error. Finally I turned to the chat window that only pops up when a user is on the "Make a Payment" page.

That's when I had the most ridiculous conversation of my life with two different customer service reps. They switched in the middle of the conversation and their responses were so stilted that at first I wasn't even sure they were human.

What I eventually learned was that Freelancer.com was seeing Paypal error code 10417. Trouble was, the customer service reps didn't know what to tell me about it so they kept telling me to call Paypal. This made no sense to me, because I wasn't using a Paypal account. I was using my bank credit card.

So I decided to look into Paypal's error codes myself. Paypal has a page that lists all their API (this is the way Freelancer.com interacts with Paypal) error codes. When I found the code I saw that the customer service rep was just repeating what the Paypal response was telling her to say, but she clearly didn't understand why.

What I discovered is that Freelancer is a business headquartered outside of the U.S. and therefore, bank cards (debit or credit) will flag transactions as international and potentially suspicious. My credit card saw the potential transaction with Freelancer and it tripped a fraud alert. My credit card was frozen and therefore wasn't working in the payment portal for that reason.

What Freelancer needs to do is teach its customer service reps more of the potential "why?" behind the API error codes and teach them how to start resolving a situation without blaming the customer. The rep should have said, "Sometimes, because we're an international company, credit card/bank cards flag a potential charge and won't let it through. I suggest you call your bank to be sure they are not holding up the transaction."

Instead, I had two different customer service reps basically tell me it wasn't their fault and so clearly it was something I was doing incorrectly. The whole experience put such a bad taste in my mouth that I won't use the site again. But I did want to share my experience in case others run into the same problem.

More Ways to Learn to Code

There are so many ways today to increase your technology skills and even learn to code. 

1. Team Treehouse and their new packaging Code Racer,

2. CodeAcademy.org - not to be confused with

3. Codecademy.com,

4. Dev Boot Camp in San Francisco,

5. Lynda.com,

6. Rails for Zombies,

7. Coder Dojo,

8. Udacity.com,

9. Girl Develop It,

10. Hackademia.com,

11. CodeHS,

12. Eloquent Javascript,

13. Programr,

14. Code Avengers, and

15. Code School.

While CodeAcademy and the Dev Boot Camp are in person, the others are purely online. I've been trying the online versions and finding that it may be my age, but I do better when in a classroom environment. It's less convenient, to be sure, to travel to a class and block out the time, but I find that when left to my own devices, I don't do the work as consistently as I would like. There are so many distractions online!

It's something I think about with respect to the Valley mantra about how technology is going to change education for children. Online classes may be great for the disciplined, motivated and well-behaved, but what about the rest of us?