Thursday, September 28, 2006

A cool, new Boulder startup: DragonFly Innovation

My friends, Scott and Susan Dalgleish, have started a new company, DragonFly Innovation, that has a unique goal, to teach kids creativity. Not art, but creativity, through the use of craft kits. I think that's really cool, because creative thought is such a unique and valuable skill (that I have always wished I was better at).

They have recently started gaining recognition, having been nominated for a Boulder County Business Report IQ Award, and having been written about in the same publication.

They have chosen to sell their kits through multilevel marketing, i.e. home parties. That's probably a good choice, given the nature of the product and the target audience. (I have some related thoughts on MLM, which I'll address on a later post.) I'm excited to watch their progress.

I wonder if there are kits that could be used to teach adults creativity?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Picking up the crap

I recently attended a Rockies Venture Club monthly meeting, in part to pitch SharedPlan to potential investors. The event included four or five companies pitching for 5 minutes each, then featured a three-person panel to discuss angel and VC investing in Colorado. The panel made some very interesting points, which I will describe in a later post.

However, I wanted to highlight the most entertaining pitch I think I have ever seen. Actually, I haven't seen a lot of pitches, but I have seen an endless number of PowerPoint presentations, and this was one of the most fun.

I think the presenter's name was Barney (Barney, if you're reading this and I got that wrong, I apologize and please email me with a correction), and he was not a polished speaker. However, he spoke with true enthusiasm for his product, Crap-on, and that made all the difference.

Crap-on is a doggy waste bag that does not require the user to 'handle' the mess. I'm not a dog owner, but I have seen the procedure used all-too-infrequently on my own front lawn. The owner inverts a plastic bag on her hand, reaches down and picks up the poop, then pulls the bag back over the pile and ties a knot in it. All fine, except for that unpleasant picking-up-the-poop part.

That's the problem that Crap-on is solving. Crap-on is a bag that holds a circular shape so that, when the dog "assumes the position" (Barney's term), the owner quickly places the bag on the ground in the target zone. Even better, the bottom of the bags have pictures of squirrels, cats, or other animals that drive dogs crazy, right in the bottom center. I guess the dog is supposed to derive particular pleasure by pooping on his nemesis. The owner then grabs the Crap-on by the draw-tie handles and is good to go.

I loved this pitch! I have been in technology my entire adult life, and I have very little exposure outside of this world, so when I see a product idea like Crap-on, presented with such fervor by a true believer, I find it tremendously refreshing. I have no idea if Barney will be successful, but I'm certainly rooting for him. His website, as I remember it, was, although it doesn't appear to be up yet. If any of you see it, please support Barney.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

We're famous in Japan

I live and work in beautiful Boulder, Colorado, USA. One of the reasons I love living here is the active, outdoor culture here. As a wannabe runner and cyclist, I appreciate all the ways the city actively supports those activities and the breadth of the healthy lifestyles represented here.

These Boulder characteristics, combined with its elevation (5000 to 6000 feet) and Colorado's sunny climate (300+ days of sunshine per year), make it a favorite training home for elite athletes. American examples include bike racers Tyler Hamilton, Davis Phinney, and Ron Kiefel, and runner Uta Pippig. I recently heard that Boulder has about 20 Olympic medalist residents. One Olympic 10K runner, Colleen De Reuck, lives in my neighborhood and I often see her running by at a blistering pace; a pace that is probably her everyday, easy pace that I couldn't match on my best race day.

The Japanese national marathon team owns a house in my neighborhood, as well. Many of the top Japanese runners, including Naoko Takahashi (Q-Chan), 2000 Olympic gold medalist, have lived and trained there. They spend several months in the house, then the house is empty for several months. They have been here all summer, and you can see them running everywhere around the city. Most of the time, they're running quite slow (my kind of speed), but when they're moving, they're really moving.

Their coach, Koide Yoshio (Koide-san), also lives in the house with them. From what I understand, Koide-san is a very famous coach in Japan, sort of like Phil Jackson or
Bill Parcells here. My neighborhood friend, Eric, occasionally takes Koide-san out for sushi. Eric once offered to bring the athletes along, but Koide-san pointed out that with the number of calories the athletes eat at every meal, Eric couldn't afford to take them to sushi.

I recently found out that the Japanese athletes keep a blog about their life in Boulder. It's all in Japanese, but I enjoy seeing pictures of my neighborhood on it. It's strange to think about my little neighborhood being discuss on a Japanese blog.

It's just one of the great things about Boulder.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Boy, we got that wrong

It has been a big week for me, with lots of home and work changes. On the work side, Roger and I have decided that the way we structured SharedPlan's revised product offering is just not right and is leading to confusion among our current and prospective customers. What's a little humorous is not that we got a certain aspect of the marketing 4Ps wrong (product definition, pricing, promotion, and placement), but that we got a little bit of everything wrong.

We came to this conclusion by examining direct (e.g. sales revenue and trends) and indirect indicators (e.g. how people move through the website and where they exit, and the kinds of support questions we received). I'm not sure we got any aspect of these revisions completely right.

Luckily, we haven't publicly announced these changes yet. We have only announced them to our newsletter readership. I will have to publish an embarrassing follow-up email to them to explain how we're going to fix it. The fixes will be in place this week, but I'm not sure when I'll send an email to our readers.

It's always humbling to recognize that, no matter how much you think you know about something (like technology marketing, in my case), it's no guarantee that you'll do things right everytime. But you hope you get close ...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Does anyone know how to fly a kite anymore?

Yesterday's weather was frustrating. It started in the morning (at my son's soccer game) with spitty, spotty rain. Toward the end of the game, a howling wind blew in. I checked the local weather site, and the wind was gusting at 45+ mph, with steady speeds of 20-25 mph.

It was looking like it was going to be a pretty bleak fall day. However, soon the clouds gave way to sun, although the wind remained. So, what to do with two kids (ages 3 and 7) on a sunny, windy fall day? Of course, you fly a kite.

Now, we live in Boulder, Colorado, so winds like this are not particularly remarkable. (Something about being nestled up against the foothills of the Rockies.) Therefore, you would think that kite-flying is a pretty popular activity. In fact, Boulder has one of the best kite stores I have ever been in. (I have only been in a couple, but it's a very cool store, regardless.) However, every time we go to our local park, we seem to be the only ones who know how to fly a kite.

I believe that kite-flying has become the victim of two conditions. The first is the popular belief that kids don't play outside as much. On these blustery days, maybe it is easier for kids to stay in to play on their Playstations, and maybe it is easier for busy parents to let them do so.

The second is that many parents, like myself, remember kite-flying being a complete pain in the butt. The traditional diamond kite, made with paper and two sticks and with a tail made of a strip of torn sheet with a few bows tied on to it, is a lousy thing to fly. Difficult to launch and difficult to keep airborne. When we were kids, how many times did we have to run with that kite to finally get it up in the air? Dozens? While kite-flying had a certain romanticism attached to it, the execution was always difficult.

Since my wife and I are big believers in kicking the kids outside whenever possible, and because we live in a very windy place, and because about five years ago we bought the coolest, easiest, modern kite (something like this), we fly kites all of the time. So that's what I did with my boys yesterday.

We went to our local park, where there were about two or three other families trying to fly kites. Our brain-dead-simple kite went right up with no effort. (It doesn't even require someone to launch it. The pilot can just hold it in the air and play out string as it ascends right from his hand.) After other families struggled with their kites, several of them ended up flying ours. Eventually, my boys and I went to play on the playstructures while others flew our kite. (One kid was named Raffy [Raphael], such a typically-Boulder unusual name.)

I think I have become a kite ambassador in our park, introducing families to the joys of flying technologically-advanced, economical, easy-to-fly modern kites.