Your Phone Will Control Your Home

We knew it was coming, but Google finally today announced Android@Home, Google’s new open framework to allow your Android mobile device to (eventually) control everything in your home – music, lighting, security, cameras, doors, appliances, you name it.  I think the “home” is a next big frontier of unexplored opportunity and is going to create an entire new ecosystem of startups and companies focusing on the intersection of mobile and home.  While Microsoft (Kinect), IBM and HP have been in this home sensor space for years, Google has a history of changing the game and bringing new technologies to the masses through their open development platforms.  Google Chrome OS, with 160M users and Android, with exponential growth and now the leading mobile operating system in the world, are two examples of Google’s ability to create explosive products and platforms.

Over just the past decade, we’ve seen a migration in opportunity from initially web only, then to mobile smartphones, then to mobile connectedness to others through applications and social media, which by the way is not nearly fully exploited yet.  It seems with Google’s announcement today, at least one next evolution of connected technology is our mobile device as a true connector to everything in our lives – people, home, car and every activity that fills our day.

Consistent with other Google applications, Android@Home is an open platform that encourages any developer to create applications that operate on the platform.  Google with their worldwide influence, has a unique ability to define and lead game changing technologies by first defining the platform standard, then opening it up for developers everywhere to create applications, increasing consumer adoption and ultimately leading to exponential scale.  Google’s vision in this case is to create a “smart home” by having millions of developers building applications that over time will completely automate your home through your mobile device.  Pretty cool George Jetson stuff that he might have developed at Spacely’s Sprockets!

I’m excited to see what will happen over the next 12 months in the home automation space now that Google has officially entered the market.

Now, if only Google could create a platform for increasing home values to 2005 levels, I’d really be impressed 🙂

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Engineer = Rock Star

It’s good to be a developer in this job market.  Really good.  And not just in Silicon Valley, although SV really is the center of the universe for mobile and web technology.

At TrueCar, we’ve been really aggressive with hiring for both our LA and SF offices, including offering relocation packages from anywhere in the U.S., even for junior engineers.  We’re selling our story hard.  Here’s what we’ve been up against over the past year:

  • Google recently gave every employee across-the-board 10% raises – up from already strong compensation.
  • Large Silicon Valley companies like Google and Facebook are actually acquiring small startups, in some cases only a few months old, to gain access to the development team.
  • Poaching talent from competitors has become a fine art, escalating signing bonuses to extreme amounts for top talent.  As incredulous as a $500K retention bonus sounds, the economics of that decision for a company like Google makes perfect sense based on the shareholder value that lead engineer will create.  Oh, and 15% of Facebook’s employees have previously worked for Google.
  • In Boulder, a consortium of companies are pooling money to fly in engineers from around the country to attend Boulder Startup Week beginning in a few weeks on May 18.

Compounding the challenge is the fact that its probably the best time in tech history to be an entrepreneur and start your own company.  There’s efficient access to capital and mentoring through firms like AngelList, YCombinator and TechStars and valuations are soaring, encouraging top technical talent to do their own thing, which is exactly what is happening, effectively removing top engineering talent from the labor pool.  How crazy is it that top engineers leave Google, start their own company, get acquired within a year and end up back at Google as an employee?

It’s a downright war for talent right now.

My Favorite Twitter Follows

I wanted to follow up a prior post on my favorite startup blogs with a post on a handful of my favorite Twitter follows.  These are a group of folks, most of whom I only know by reputation, that have something to say or news to share about technology, startups or entertainment.  As I mentioned previously, Twitter has become a go-to source of news and insights for me, an incredibly efficient way to absorb a lot of information quickly.  Enjoy!

News, Technology & Startups

  • @TrueCar – of course.
  • @TechCrunch – the leading startup blog, news feed.  Good iPhone app too.
  • @TEDNews – news source for incredible human innovations
  • @venturehacks – Startup advice
  • @nytimes – Also on my iPhone
  • @cnnbrk – CNN Breaking News
  • @GOOD – An association of “pragmatic idealists” focusing on issues of Good in the world
  • @Oxfam – An international group of 15 organizations across the world developing solutions for poverty & injustice.
  • @bfeld – Brad Feld, VC and prolific blogger, highlighted in a prior post.  Highly active on Twitter.
  • @msuster – Mark Suster, Entrepreneur turned VC, very active blogger and on Twitter.
  • @sacca – Chris Sacca, Entrepreneur and early investor in Twitter.  Highly active.
  • @Bill_Gross – Founder of Idealab and 100 other companies over 30 years
  • @tferriss – Tim Ferriss, author of “4-Hour Work Week” and “4-Hour Body”.  Interesting and unique.
  • @fredwilson – Highly regarded VC and daily blogger.
  • @cdixon – Chris Dixon, entrepreneur founder of Hunch.
  • @davemcclure – Founder of 500startups, a seed fund and startup accelerator.
  • @hnshah – Hiten Shah, Co-Founder of KissMetrics, great insights for entrepreneurs.
  • @bhorowitz – Ben Horowitz, Founder of LoudCloud turned VC.  Phenomenal blog that I inadvertently left off my previous post.

Entertainment & Other

  • @SudsNYC – Sudhir Kandula, a friend and top 3 finalist in “America’s Next Great Restaurant”.
  • @playgrounddad – Connecting modern dads with products/events that help them spend better time with their kids.
  • @StartupJesus – Fake Jesus, runs a startup that is “going to change the world”.  Of course it will.
  • @ConanOBrien – love his humor and his show.
  • @BorowitzReport – Andy Borowitz, hilarious quips on current events.  King of the one-liners.
  • @donttrythis – Adam Savage, host of Mythbusters
  • @TheOnion – America’s finest fake news source
  • @bobsaget – ever since he appeared on Entourage, I can’t get enough of him.
  • @shitmydadsays – Justin who lives with his 74-year old dad.  4-letter word alert, but freakin’ funny.

What are some great Twitter follows that I missed?

4D Ultrasound, Wonderful and Creepy

On Monday Renee and I went for our non-medical, baby-in-the-belly-for-entertainment 4D ultrasound.  This procedure is where they use a skin-level view imaging system in combination with the ultrasound to give 3D views of your unborn child plus movement (thus the 4D).  We spent about an hour with the technician poking, prodding and moving Renee into various positions to give us the most non-creepy view possible of our little one.  It was wonderful and creepy at the same time as evidenced by the picture.  Renee’s family will be happy to know that Baby G has her nose and mouth!


My Favorite Tech Startup Blogs

There are lots of interesting and insightful tech industry blogs out there, many of which are highly trafficked and very well known.  Such properties like Techcrunch, VentureBeat, OnStartups, ReadWriteWeb, Mashable are all great blog and news feeds, but I’d like to share a few of my personal favorites that are popular, but not as mainstream as some of these news sites.  Here goes:

Both Sides of the Table.  This blog is written by Mark Suster, a leading Los Angeles VC and entrepreneur.  Mark interviews entrepreneurs as well as shares his experience as an investor.  Not news based, rather techniques and insights for helping entrepreneurs succeed.  One of the most active bloggers out there.  Follow Mark on Twitter @msuster.

Feld Thoughts.  Written by Boulder-based VC Brad Feld, also an entrepreneur and now partner in Foundry Group and co-founder of TechStars.  He blogs daily about his experiences, investments and personal use of technology.  I’ve met Brad and really enjoy his daily posts.  Follow Brad on Twitter @bfeld.

A VC.  Written by now legendary VC Fred Wilson, he also posts daily with common sense advice and techniques for entrepreneurs trying to navigate fundraising, selling and operating their businesses.  He also blogs about his personal use of technology and investments being made by his firm Union Square Ventures.  Follow Fred on Twitter @fredwilson.

Tim Ferriss Blog.  Tim is the best-selling author of “The 4-Hour Workweek” and “The 4-Hour Body”, both #1 NYTimes Bestsellers.  This blog is incredibly insightful and full of non-intuitive, practical advice for entrepreneurs.  I saw Tim speak in Los Angeles, pretty amazing guy.  Follow Tim on Twitter @tferriss.

Jason Calacanis Newsletter.  Jason is a serial entrepreneur and is into everything startup.  Currently the Founder of Mahalo and LAUNCH Conference, Jason puts out a periodic newsletter to subscribers.  Go to his website and enter your email in the upper right box under “Jason Nation Newsletter”.  Follow Jason on Twitter @jason.

While there are about 30 more on my list, these are my daily favs.

I’ll follow up this post with my favorite Twitter follows (a much longer list).

What are some other great startup blogs out there?

My Love Affair With Twitter

OK, so I have been a little slow on the uptake as far as social media goes.  I’m an Ops guy after all, not a self-promoting marketer, although this blog is an attempt to come out of my shell just a bit.  Sure, I’ve been a Facebook participant for years but more in a voyeur sense than a true active participant.

I never really “got” Twitter, largely due to a misconception, my second such realization in the past month when it comes to the use of technology.  My perception of Twitter has been based in the belief that its value (or lack thereof) was solely to communicate “what someone is doing right now” whether that be picking up a 6-pack at the grocery store or spying on Tom Hanks at the Beverly Hills Starbucks.  Like I have the time, energy or desire to receive up-to-the-minute status updates from quasi-friends or in many cases people I don’t know at all.  Or worse, that I have to have the added pressure in my day to tell people “I just saw Tom Hanks at Starbucks” or some other unimportant tweet.

But as I’ve committed my personal and professional development to dig deeper into social media, branch out professionally, write this blog and most important, dedicate a portion of my day to consume more information (technology news, trends, insights, points of view from respected voices in the technology community), I’ve discovered just how incredibly useful and productive services like Twitter can be to accomplishing the efficient consumption of large amounts of information.

Most of the folks I follow on Twitter are technology industry participants – entrepreneurs, VC’s, bloggers – who have been successful and have something, usually insightful, to say that is interesting to me from a personal or professional development standpoint.  It’s like a giant filtering mechanism for me, they filter and highlight news, information and their own point of view so I don’t have to find all this juicy content on my own.  I can scan tweets quickly and choose to click through links when something catches my eye.

So, it’s not just about trivial, useless updates of personal behavior or whereabouts (although there is some of that), but also about “following” those on Twitter that you genuinely respect and believe that the content they “tweet” is somehow useful in your life, whether personal or professional.

Another key point and major distinction from Facebook – the majority of the people I follow on Twitter, I’ve never met and they don’t likely know me, so I can “follow” or “un-follow” people based solely on the quality of the information I’m getting.  Much more difficult to do on Facebook.  As much as I’d like to, “un-friending” someone on Facebook who you know can be painful to do.  As a result, I get limited useful knowledge-based information from Facebook, it’s simply a way to keep up with folks and what’s going on in their lives and share the same in return.

Finally, I do feel a sense of responsibility to also contribute content to the social communities that provide value to me.  So posting on Facebook or tweeting content on Twitter is something I’m doing more regularly now – not that anyone cares, but hey, if it’s not valued then I’ll be un-followed or un-friended.

Until then, follow me on Twitter!

The Incredible Business of Water

I read a really interesting article yesterday in Fast Company, one of my favorite publications, about the world’s use (and misuse) of our most precious commodity – water.  There are two aspects of this story that I find really compelling.  First, some of the statistics on water use are truly staggering.  Second, there are enormous business opportunities not yet fully exploited around the data analysis and management of water, which I’ll explain further.

First, some data.  Most of us arguably take water for granted, but there are some statistics that are shocking to me –

  • 4 out of every 10:  People in the world that have no access to clean water or must walk to retrieve it.
  • The U.S. uses more water in a day than it uses in oil in a year.
  • The U.S. uses more water in 3 days than the world uses oil in a year.
  • 5,000:  Children who die from lack of water or from waterborne disease each day.
  • 528 Gallons:  Amount of water required to raise and process food for 1 American’s diet for 1 day.
  • 250 Gallons:  Amount of water necessary to generate 1 American’s electricity for 1 day.
  • Intel and Coca-Cola include water use and the risk water scarcity represents to their businesses in their Annual Financial Reporting.  Intel addresses water issues on its website.

According to the article, despite these statistics, there has been little focus by big business on the economic value of water, meaning the value of things we can do with water – brew coffee, grow wheat, process microchips.  Because the price of water itself, especially in the developed world, is so low, we act as if clean, on-demand water has zero economic value – it has indispensable usefulness, but rarely has a significant price – at least, so far.

This leads to the second compelling issue for me – there might be real opportunity to develop systems, software, analytics, etc. to help businesses measure, track and ultimately reduce water dependence and cost, particularly if water is not the core business, but rather an input that is likely getting ignored.  In my experience, what you don’t measure and track is likely inefficient, costly and lacks innovation.

Take the case of Coca Cola, a business where water IS a focus, is diligently measured and teams are created to focus on minimizing water use.  It actually takes 5 liters of water to produce each 2 liter bottle of Coke, which is a 9% improvement over just 5 years ago, or 8 billion gallons of water per year saved.  Still seems like a lot of water use for the end product to me, but goes to show the opportunity.

And the article discusses how “water is not smart”, meaning a water network moves water, but very little information about it.  And water is typically not measured in a way that allows you to manage or optimize its use.  IBM estimates that of the $400B industry water represents, the “smart-water” information technology sector could be worth up to $20B annually, and there’s currently very little innovation in this sector.

Sounds like a great new startup opportunity!  What do you think?

The Future of Online Gaming

I had the opportunity recently to see a talk by Richard “Skip” Bronson, Chairman of USDG, a business focused on helping states, through a proprietary technology platform, capture tax revenue from the (illegal) gaming activity happening online in the US.  Illegal gaming is a $5B industry and Skip anticipates that market to double if it were to be made legal.

Skip clearly knows this business, he’s been at the top of the gaming and hotel industries for years having partnered on multiple projects with Steve Wynn and sitting on the Board of Starwood Resorts, and he believes the key to unlocking business opportunity in this industry is licensing on a state-by-state basis.  It’s not creating the next best online game as there is already incredible creativity and progress made in that arena, rather it’s partnering with states in a way that allows them to capture tax revenue from all the gaming transactions.

Apparently, many states are listening to USDG’s pitch for a responsible, regulated and legal online gaming system.  Now that 43 states have lotteries, an obvious form of gaming where consideration changes hands, gaming is no longer seen as socially unacceptable or taboo.

And California seems to be leading the way with Bill SB40 which would license and tax Internet gaming and which is under serious consideration.

What really struck me about Skip’s talk is the incredible business opportunities that will open up if and when gaming begins to become legal among the states.  Advertising is a prime example.  Large brands with huge online ad budgets are obviously reticent to advertise on illegal gaming sites, but imagine the value of ad placement and sponsorship to an audience that averages over an HOUR online per session if sites were operating within the law.

What other opportunities do you think legalization of online gaming will uncover?

Airport Security – CLEAR

Today I flew back to LA from Denver and noticed the CLEAR program being marketed heavily in the security line with 4 or 5 kiosks, yet very little traffic going through the CLEAR line itself.  I was there at 5:30am and it looked like largely a leisure crowd going through an already steadily increasing security line.  Perhaps a bit early for the road warrior Monday morning folks.

I couldn’t help thinking that if I lived in Denver this would be the first thing I would do (after purchasing a new set of skis) – enroll in this program if the price point was reasonable, say $200-250 per year.  My experience with DIA is always greeted with long security lines because security is centralized in one location for the entire airport.

Once I actually landed in LA and dug into the research, this is actually a re-brand and launch of the failed Clear program across 18 airports that ended in class action lawsuits and bankruptcy back in 2009.  A new investment and management group has purchased those assets and is attempting to revive the program.  There are only 2 current participating airports (Denver + Orlando) but their presence at DIA security was prominent – multiple kiosks, attendants – you couldn’t miss it.

The program is $179 per year with an additional $50 family plan and this program is completely privately run, using biometric identification, same as before.  I think its a great idea provided there is a large enough ACTUAL time savings from the first class security lines to offset the cost of the program for the target consumer, which I assume is the frequent traveler – who will likely have access to first class security lines.  Perceived benefit I’m not sure gets you there, it’s gotta save time for the business traveler.

I think Denver is a great place to have this program.  Problem is, the only way I’d join the program is if my resident airport participated.  It will take a load of $179 subscriptions to pay for the operation I witnessed today, I’d like to see behind the curtain on those economics.  Particularly for airports where security is NOT centralized, like LAX and dozens of others.  The additional cost of hardware for convenient placement in a distributed airport, with more than 5 disparate security locations, has to quickly add up.  Well, I hope it works out and that LAX is next on the list!  Check ’em out at www.clearme.com

iPhone is changing my life!

Wow, received my iPhone yesterday after a long unsatisfying union with Blackberry. I was always wary of switching away from the button keyboard since I’m such a heavy email and text user on my mobile device. But here I am on day 2, writing this post on the plane and, by the way, doing so on the airline’s wifi. Try doing that on your Blackberry. The keyboard is actually pretty good due in large part to Apple’s autocorrect technology. The iPhone web experience is captivating especially compared to the unusable interface on the BB Tour. Literally unusable.

And the apps! Some of my favorites:

Dropbox – a must for accessing and syncing all of your files

Yelp – especially if you travel. A great location aware app.

Tripit Pro – for road warriors keeps track of all travel and points and monitors flights real time.

Google – pretty cool picture recognition technology that enables search.

Google voice – read or listen to your voice mail, for free of course.

Nirvino wine and beer ratings – separate apps with huge databases

I have much more to explore but I’m hooked. Here’s a (humorous) good review of how I’m feeling.

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