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TECH cocktail CONFERENCE Chicago – Creating Change For The Future

Wow! That was tiring, I stepped on the L at 7:30AM and didn’t get home until 1:30AM the next morning! 18 hours of pure madness! Most people noticed the great speeches by Gary Vee from Wine Library TV and Dick Costolo (aka ask the wizard) and others. But what I really appreciated was the other things that the day brought to me. When Frank Gruber and Eric started TECH cocktail, one of the goals was to enable the interaction of people and removing barriers between entrepreneurs, funding sources and removing the boundaries between Chicago and the rest of the world.

When I sit at the first TECH cocktail CONFERENCE Chicago watching great speeches and meeting people from startups from both the east and west coasts while talking, playfully joking about Internet concepts and trading ideas with a local Chicago angel investor in the back of the room for hours on end – it’s at that moment one can clearly perceive a vision is starting to become reality…

For a first conference, it was very well run. There were those little things with a venue that didn’t go quite right with the elevators and not having enough power outlets (but you could say that about any conference) but those were out of their direct control. You could see that Eric and Frank went out of their way to challenge the audience about topics that too often go ignored at startups, like how to set up a corporate entity properly, partnerships and most of these challenges and experiments went well.

So what’s next? I’d like to challenge each and every person in TECH cocktail community to take things to the next level by taking the following actions:

1. Follow Up – People need to work to get to know each other better and learn to leverage each person’s special gifts and talents and realize that 1 + 1 > 2 when we behave in this manner. For me, I know that creating new business partners while listening to help iterate the product, data model or service is my area of strength.

2. Change TECH cocktail from an event to an everyday process on your own – a three month cycle time is not sufficient to build relationships to the next level – it’s everyone’s responsibility to make an hour here and there to sit down with someone, learn about what they are doing, give them a fresh perspective and potential assistance. Don’t wait for the next TECH cocktail event. If this means you need to organize your contact info, make that important time investment.

3. Listen to what Dick Costolo had to say about Internet company NDAs and then change your behavior accordingly (where is the video of that speech anyway?)Stop sending people NDAs that serve no purpose other than to destroy your access to people who are the most qualified to help you. Ideas are a dime a dozen, assembling the right people with the current knowledge and future potential to create that reality is what matters.

4. Go beyond lurking, participate!!! During the conference, I had at least 10 people talk to me about a blog post of mine in detail, yet they’ve never left a comment on my blog. That’s sad. Leaving a comment leaves you a hyperlink back to your business or blog and allows distribution of one’s business network organically removing them as the bottleneck, please use this viral tool.

5. Learn to hire people for their current knowledge, network, blogs and future potential – not legacy job titles and brands – this takes work, research and being involved in the community, but it is how you’ll find the breakthrough thought leaders and future superstars.

6. Become an ambassador to expanding the understanding of the tools we all use and expand our base of understanding to new people outside our core – If you have a client or operate a service do they understand what Internet advertising, blogs, rss, social media, twitter, etc do? If they do is their organizational culture and structure set up to handle it to serve a customer’s needs? Many people know there is a problem but do not know where to start to fix it – I want to help those people as it will ease the adoption and enhance demand for disruptive new Internet services. I’m planning a series of future posts on this important, yet highly untouched topic. If you have examples of success stories or learnings in this area, I’d love to hear from you.

What else would you add to this list? I look forward to your contributions.

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TC08 Chicago – Ask The Wizard Live – Dick Costolo Talks Entrepreneurship

Dick Costolo gave a really raw, heartfelt talk about Feedburner, venture capital fund raising and venture capital. I won’t dwell on it here, but even though I’ve never worked directly on anything with Dick, we’ve had an amazing exchange of ideas and conversation over the years. Someday I hope I can take that relationship to an even higher level – mostly for the personal growth that I know it would cause rather than the monetization events it would likely bring. He gets it. Dick never stops learning and interacting every day. That restlessness is critical to his perpetual personal growth. Sorry, I think I did dwell on it a bit….anyway, here are my raw notes or his passionate speech that bordered on a rant at times…in the most positive way:

4 startups including Feedburner

Feedburner all founders had same equity percentage – very important to teamwork dynamic and success

Entrepreneurs worry too much about valuation

Market Opportunity – sizing, does the market need it, team, product, market

Location – No Black Swans

Cash – Don’t kid yourself

CCs, your misunderstood friends – finding the right one

Options/Equity – options, pool, common stock, dilution

Board Meetings – Should be strategic discussions, not operations, board package, timing and who should attend…

Hiring – Best Available Athlete, Roles and Flat Organizations, Hierarchy begets bureaucracy, replace with tools (eg SFA)…Don’t hire for position…hire people that can do almost anything…a jack of all trades…this reminds me of a lot of what BlackRock was like…I sat at 23 desks in 4 years, I don’t know how many projects I worked on during my time there, I understood every process in the company.

No offices. Open culture and communication are critical…

Experience or Enthusiasm?

Performance – performance reviews and subjectivity


Growing the team
– Sales and Marketing – don’t hire until you are ready to sell
– Interview process – long

Product Development and Business Strategy
Serendipity and Adjustment – visit to the eye doctor

Launch Late to Launch Often – data models and programs architected for extensibility can beat point solutions every time (I agree this is critical)

Focus and Speed of Execution are a competitive advantage
– Internationalization
– Early biz dev can hurt you, so can any biz dev

Competitive advantage
– Be first to market, not most sophisticated, not the best product, be itirative and fast

Let people you don’t know help you win (open/api) and provide your products/service with the best opportunity to evolve in the market

Startups who ask people to sign NDAs are stupid! Gave a great (and way too fast!) discussion on this…I wish he’d write a detailed blog post of his rant. ?

Quantum barriers to entry and market share – Get market share, market share is the only thing you should focus on.

Revenue plan: Don’t kid yourself. Revenue ALWAYS ramps slower than you think it will.

Don’t do unnecessary things because you think you’re supposed to

Try to let the business model come to you
– Easy to say, not easy to do
– It’s easier to lower the price than to raise the price?
– Look for always on opportunities

Don’t worry about an exit strategy, worry about everything else

Be a big small company
– Public face of the company
– Have a specific voice, have a culture

Be competitive on your merits

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TC08 Chicago – Designing With Users In Mind

The following is a brief summary of the session that Former Feedburner folks Matt Shobe and John Zeratsky (I need to spend some time with that guy sometime) put on at TECH cocktail Conference 08.

Without further delay, here’s their tips on designing with users in mind!

Be Yourself – informal, fun

Be Fast – the perceived time when people see speed, they perceive the experience and organization as reliable. Image sprites can help this. Steve Souders is a good source on this topic.

Be Willing to Give Up Control – Give yourself permission to outsource certain tasks.

Be Engaged – have a blog, more importantly, be engaged in other blogs. It’s important to get the early adopters and beta testers to help you. It allows you to iterate.

Be Polite – Try to be considerate…from the users perspective.

Be Surprising – Do things outside the norm. Hackathon. Had new feature coding retreat days. Engage random users.

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TC08 Chicago – Looking at Technology For Your Business In New Ways

TECH cocktail CONFERENCE 08 in Chicago got started with Mike Domek, after which the guys from Threadless gave a simple and fun session with some practical insight


Scaling…printers, vendors, etc

Inventory is hard….

The Internet is Serious Business

Dealing with problems that we are not prepared to deal with… (can be an advantage too)


Our Users – Do they care? Do they help?

Technology Agnosticism

Awesome Staff – “Innovation comes from the bottom up” – Golden advice on how to build a culture…

Harper then ended with an interesting comment about Bin Laden….implied that he saw some false flag elements…

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White Paper…Query Suggestions for Mobile Search: Understanding Usage Patterns

Bill Slawski wrote up a nice review of the Google paper on mobile search…definitely good analysis to a nice research piece on the most perplexing bottleneck – mobile data input.

It’s my expectation that interest in innovation in the text input, voice input or even new forms of shortcuts will accelerate in the near future as it’s a critical area to create an optimal user experience while increasing frequency of usage and monetization potential.

Are you aware of companies doing interesting work in this arena?