Posts from August 2016

Fifty Five

I am fifty five years old today.

I have always loved having a birthday in late august.

It’s a time of year when things slow down.

It’s a time of year to be surrounded by friends and family.

It’s a time of year that begs for reading a good novel on the beach.

And I am doing all of those things.

What I am not doing is letting the aging process get me down.

I am enjoying getting older.

I particularly enjoy watching things I helped create grow into amazing things.

I am mostly talking about our three children.

But I am also talking about the companies we helped get started over the past twenty years.

And I am also talking about philanthropic and civic efforts we have helped get off the ground.

Time has a way of revealing who you are and what matters to you.

And, at age fifty five, I have put in enough time on planet earth to have those revelations.

And that feels great.

Voice Input

I went for a bike ride this morning and while I was riding I thought of something I need to do today. I didn’t want to stop, take out my phone, remove my sunglasses, and type in the “to do” into my calendar.

So instead, I took out my phone, opened up a calendar entry, hit the microphone button, and spoke into my phone, then hit save. I did all of that in about three or four seconds. When I got home and looked at my calendar, the entry was perfect.

But you know what? I rarely, if ever, do that. I could do it all the time. But I don’t. I think I use voice input on my phone a few times a year.

I am not sure why that is. The voice input on Android is very good. I suspect the same is true on iPhone. And I am increasingly using our Amazon Echo for information. So why don’t I talk to my phone more often? I am not sure.

So I started a Twitter poll this morning to see what others do.

Here it is:

Please participate in the poll and/or leave a comment. I am curious to see what people are doing these days with voice input.

Checking In On Chat Bots

Four months ago, I blogged about our portfolio company Kik’s chat bot platform.

A week later, Facebook launched its chat bot platform for its Messenger product.

If you believed the hype around chat bots, you would have expected every mobile developer to quit developing for iOS and Android and start developing for these new new chat bot platforms.

But that has not happened.

I would be hard pressed to name a super popular chat bot on Messenger, Kik, Slack, and Telegram.

It is not for a lack of trying. There are over 300 chat bots listed on botlist right now. Many from well known companies. And over 20,000 chat bots have been built on the Kik platform since it was launched.

So what is going on?

Kik CEO Ted Livingston addressed some of that yesterday with a post describing what has not worked and what has.

His big takeaways are that AI driven chat bots have underwhelmed and that conversational UIs are not what users are looking for.

He suggests that developers should look at bots as a low friction way to get new users to try out and use their service instantly:

When you look closely at WeChat, the chat app that has completely taken over China, you see that its success as an ecosystem of services comes down to the same things: low-friction access to apps; sharing-related discovery (as well as QR codes); a common interface; and messaging as the front door to a world of digital experiences. In fact, there’s no major conversation-based service in WeChat. Instead, there’s just a whole lot of instant interactions.

I think chat bots will find their place in the mobile user’s daily habits. I have encouraged several entrepreneurs who have pitched me on new projects to consider starting with chat bots instead of mobile apps. And we have seen at least one of our portfolio companies move from a native mobile app to a chat bot as their primary go to market strategy.

New user behaviors take time to develop and sometimes require a breakthrough app to get things started. That’s where we are with chat bots. The hype phase is over and we are now into the figuring it out phase. That’s usually when interesting stuff starts to happen.

Please Consider Volunteering For ScriptEd This Coming School Year

ScriptEd is a non-profit organization that equips students in under-resourced schools in NYC with the fundamental coding skills and professional experiences that together create access to careers in technology.  It brings its tuition free program directly to schools, where classes are taught by software developers on a volunteer basis. Classroom volunteers commit to teach for the entire school year (late September through late May) two times a week. Each volunteer is part of a four-person team, and is supported by ScriptEd’s staff members.

As the end of summer approaches, ScriptEd is gearing up for the 2016-2017 school year. The organization is looking for software developers in NYC to help to serve 900 students in 37 under-resourced high schools.

Volunteering with ScriptEd is a great way to meet like-minded people while increasing inclusionary access to the tech work force in NYC.

If this is interesting to you, you can apply to volunteer at this link: bit.ly/ScriptEdVolunteer.

A ScriptEd staff member will reach out and schedule a time to discuss the volunteer commitment further once an application is submitted.

Takeaway Art Exhibit

The Jewish Museum in NYC, which is a terrific art institution, is doing a show next month in which forty contemporary artists will create over 400,000 artworks that visitors will be encouraged to “take away” with them when they visit the show.

This exhibit was inspired by a similar show that took place at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 1995.

To help fund the production costs of all of this takeaway art, the museum has launched a Kickstarter, which the Gotham Gal and I both backed yesterday.

Backers can select from a number of these takeaway art works as rewards. There are also some great in person talks with the show’s curators in the rewards.

Here’s the project video in case this project interests you like it did us.

If you want to participate in the funding of this show, you can back the Kickstarter here.

Would You Pay For News?

I asked my kids this question last week. And I got three different answers.

One of my kids said “Absolutely. I do pay for several news apps and I like them a lot.”

One of my kids said “It depends on the user interface. I really like Pocket and do most of my news reading in that app.”

And one of my kids said “No way. News should be free. I get all of the news I need online for free.”

I have asked a number of other millennials this question this past week and got a similar set of responses.

The “no way” answer was stronger with the men. The “absolutely” answer was stronger with the women.

The answer that interests me the most is the user interface issue. I like to read in a mobile browser on my phone. I can follow links most easily that way. And I can share links most easily that way. And reading news is, for me, an interactive and social experience. I really like sharing links and getting shared links. So I want a least common denominator user experience that most easily facilitates that.

But I know a lot of people who use “read later” apps like Pocket and Instapaper. Clearly the user experience question looms large in the news business.

And there is also the question of what is news. Almost everyone told me that they value “long form news content” but not “headlines.” And so it is not surprising that we see news organizations like The New York Times and Washington Post investing more in long form content.

I am curious how the AVC community thinks about paying for news.

Fun Friday: First Seven Jobs

William suggested this to me last night and I was dismissive, but like many things, a good night’s sleep changed my mind.

There’s been a meme going around Twitter called #firstsevenjobs, in which you list your first seven jobs.

These are mine:

  1. Test taker. Yes, I got paid $5 to take a standardized test on sat afternoons in fourth grade. Practice makes perfect. I’m a fantastic test taker.
  2. Hot dog vendor at Michie Stadium, the home of Army Football. You had to buy them and then sell them. You could end up “eating” that last one if you weren’t careful.
  3. Caddie. Usually for the women golfers. But I did get to caddie for the club pro in the NYS Open once. That was great.
  4. Hot dog vendor at Palisades State Park. I know hot dogs.
  5. Product quality analyst for Gillette Cricket Lighters. They sold the business a couple years later. Quality, it turns out, was a big issue.
  6. Lab Assistant, MIT Water Tunnel. This is where I learned to maintain, and then write, software.
  7. C0-manager, Lobby 7 Coffee/Donut shop. I made so much money doing this. And had a free breakfast every day too.

What were your first seven jobs?