Monday, October 30, 2006

Airfares are suddenly really high

My family lives in the Denver area, and my wife's lives around Chicago. Her aunt Yolanda's family lives in Rome, and Yolanda winters in Florida. We tend to alternate between Denver and Chicago for Christmas, but this year I thought it would be fund to spend Christmas with Yolanda's family (including Giulia) in Ft. Lauderdale.

Then we checked airfares. Wow. I expected something around $300 each, but it was more like $500. Even Chicago is high this year.

I'm not sure what the plan is now, but I think Florida is out. Bummer.

Friday, October 27, 2006

How to use SharedPlan software tools

Based on the emails and phone calls that we receive from prospective SharedPlan customers, our product offerings can sometimes be confusing. We have put a lot of energy into addressing this problem in various ways:
  • We completely reworked our website in late August and early September, making it cleaner, simpler, and with a more logical flow. Based on various indicators, we believe the new design is working better. For instance, Google Analytics (see Roger's post on Analytics) are telling us that: our pageviews per visit have increased from about 3 in August to over 4.5 in October; and in August 50% of visitors stayed less than 10 seconds and 30% more than a minute; in October, 45% stayed less than 10 seconds and 33% more than a minute. In other words, visitors spending more time and seeing more of the site than before. Hopefully, this translates into better understanding of our products.
  • We created a special web page with brief usage examples. This page seems to work pretty well, because 87% of those that visit the page move further into the site.
We're not really finished with the process. I'm current writing a white paper which will go into much more detail about different project management environments in our target markets and how SharedPlan tools fit into that environment to improve project performance.

This is a continuing effort and if you have any constructive criticism, I'd love to hear it.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Giulia and the new Hamilton Wing of the DAM

Gina's (that's my wife) cousin Giulia works at the Denver Art Museum. Giulia has a couple of degrees in art history, and she has a gift for describing art in terms that the average man (that's me) can relate to.

For example, her family has lived in Rome for years, and Gina had a small family reunion there a couple of years ago. (Gina's entire extended family is quite small, less than 20 people. I probably have twice that many cousins that I haven't even met. The Earles clan knows a little something -- or maybe not enough -- about procreation.) Giulia guided the family on a spectacular tour of the Vatican. If you have never been to the Vatican, it is filled with art, to the point where it all starts to look the same. By telling stories about the artist, the era in which he lived, and what he tried to do with the piece, Giulia was able to make each piece come alive, and weave all of the pieces in to a tapestry of culture and history. By the end of her tour, our little eight-person family group had swelled by 20 or 30 eavesdroppers.

I experienced something similar with Giulia at the grand opening of the DAM's new Hamilton Wing, the architectural marvel designed by Daniel Libeskind. We went to the event with several friends, none of which are particularly art-inclined. We saw some interesting, odd things, none of which we really understood. For instance, we spent some time in the Vicki and Kent Logan Collection, which is full of some truly bizarre, if not a little disturbing, pieces.

For instance, there's a large installation piece when you enter the room that has about two dozen headless, lifesize, identical Buddha (?) statues that look just like the two-thousand-year-old ones. In the place where the head should be, there are tiny little doll and action figure heads, suspended a couple of inches above the Buddha's necks. While all the statues were identical, each head was unique.

I'm looking at this thing, not knowing what to think. And the whole room is full of wonderfully bizarre pieces like this. Then Giulia gathered us together and explained that the Logans assembled pieces that illustrate the artists' interpretation of modern mixing of cultural or racial backgrounds and influences. For instance, the artist that created the Buddha piece is Asian, but raised in a Western environment, and was trying to comment on the Western influences on Asian culture. When viewed in the light of this tiny sliver of knowledge, the entire collection came alive for me, and I can't wait to return and spend more time with it.

I can't wait for my next opportunity to experience some of Giulia's enlightenment.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Braver than I

Just wanted to post a photo of my son at the Butterfly Pavilion, a unique facility in Westminster, Colorado where you can commune with all kinds of bugs.

As many times as I have taken my boys to the Butterfly Pavilion, I have never been able to bring myself to let that tarantula (her name is Rosie) walk on me. He's a braver man than I.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Desperately seeking salesperson (Susan?)

SharedPlan is on the verge of something big. After years of product development, and the introduction of some building-block products, we are now introducing the products that begin to deliver on the vision of the founder, Roger Denton.

Our initial products, SharedPlan Personal and Professional, were mostly sold to individuals, with a small percentage of sales being multilicense transactions. However, the new offering, ProPlanning, is an complete solution for midsize and larger businesses. We now need to change our selling strategy to address that market segment, so we have been putting feelers our for a salesperson to help us do so.

I recently forwarded the following email to some local groups I know:

SharedPlan Software (; is a startup software company looking to accelerate our sales growth. We currently have over a thousand license holders, all of whom were captured using online marketing techniques and transactions with no salesperson involvement. We are now seeking to hire an experienced software salesperson.

Past sales came from products that we view as 'foundational' products; they were created as a means to get to where we are now, but not as final end products. We have just launched the new products that will now begin delivering on the company’s vision. We are now poised for significant growth and we are looking for an experienced enterprise software salesperson to drive that growth.

This position will initially be compensated with company equity only. SharedPlan is completely bootstrap-funded, with initial revenue but limited cash. We have four current contributors, one of which is full-time while the others have 'day jobs.'

The initial engagement would be part-time, working out of the candidate's home or from SharedPlan's world headquarters (the founder's basement offices), with flexible working hours. This is an ideal position for someone working in another position that wants a low-risk way to 'test-drive' a startup, or a stay-at-home mom looking for a way to re-enter the workforce.

If you'd like to learn more, please contact me directly.
If you know of someone in the Boulder area that fits this description, please point them my way.

I love Halloween

I recently realized that I won't be home on Halloween. Halloween is a big event at my house, and trick-or-treating is huge in my neighborhood. We generally have 200-300 kids visit the house.

Usually, I go around with the boys while my wife stays home to greet the trick-or-treaters. I always wear a costume, and over the years my costumes have gotten ever more elaborate. Here's a shot of last year's, with my two boys:

My costume looks pretty unremarkable, but it was really cool (if I do say so myself) because Oscar the Grouch was a puppet. My arms are inside the trash can and controlling Oscar, and the arms in my sleeves are fake. As I said, it looks unremarkable, but in person, when Oscar popped up out of the can, people were mesmerized.

I had started planning this year's costume a month or two ago. (I always have some candidate ideas that I'm batting around in my head.) But now I'm going to be away on business. While I will be attending a couple of Halloween events on the prior weekend, it's just not the same. I guess I'll just have to table those costume ideas until next year.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The human capital VC

I was recently introduced to Brian Tsuchiya, the founder of FirstWheel Venture Group. FirstWheel is a unique venture firm that, rather than providing capital in the form of cash, helps you raise human capital, essentially employees that work only for equity (sometimes called angel employees).

While angel employees are pretty common in early startups, the FirstWheel model is much bigger. Brian developed this model for his own company, Walking Orbit, which hired almost 100 people working for equity only. These people were located around the world (I think they were mostly software developers), and he spent many dollars and hours assembling the legal, financial, and technical systems to implement the business.

The issues that Brian had to resolve are very complex. For example, if the equity is distributed based on the employees' ongoing contribution, then the IRS is going to view that as income and want to tax it, which is a big problem for employees. Also, the company's equity structure can become exceedingly complex with so many shareholders with dynamically changing ownership. The systems Brian had to put in place must have been very robust.

He has now taken these systems and started FirstWheel as a new alternative to a traditional venture firm. He was recently written about in the Denver Business Journal. I spoke with him on the phone the other day, and he mentioned that he's pursuing patents on some of the technology he developed, and that he has a 41-page contract that angel employees sign that defines their participation and compensation. More broadly, his intent is to help companies like ours to implement this model, rather than seeking cash only. In exchange, we would pay his firm fees and equity.

I haven't yet met with Brian, but am planning to do so within the next week or so. I'm not yet convinced that this makes sense, either overall or for SharedPlan.

For instance, we coincidentally met a woman who had worked as a project manager at Walking Orbit. Her comments on the model were pretty mixed. On the negative side, she said that some potential employees either balked at the 41-page contract, or at least were concerned enough about it to feel the need to pay an attorney to review it for them. She also described the challenge of trying to manage projects to completion when her human resources all had other jobs and were working on her stuff when they could. Their availability was never very predictable.

I'll be interested in learning more when I meet with Brian.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Bring Freikers to your school!

My older son, Ryan, is seven years old. I have been trying to develop his interest in riding bicycles, both because it's something I love to do and because I think it's something he could eventually be pretty good at it. Mostly, I think it's a great way to extend his horizons so he can explore more of his world.

So, we do a lot of family bike rides, probably three or four times a week all last summer. Most of those were pretty short, maybe just around the neighborhood or to the tire swing and treehouse about 2/3 of a mile away. I haven't been able to convince him to ride his bike to school yet, though. It's a longer ride, about two or three miles, pretty consistently uphill.

Recently, however, a local Boulder citizen started the Freikers (rhymes with "bikers", as in frequent bikers) program. The program offers prizes to kids to ride their bikes to school; the more they ride the cooler the prize. The riders tape a small RFID tag to their helmet and when they get to school, they just walk or ride their bike below a sensor that registers their participation that day.

Although Ryan showed a little interest in the program, he still balked at the possibility of riding all that way. But then he started seeing packs of kids riding by his bus stop on their way to school, and he saw all of the bikes in the bike racks (it's really amazing!), and realized that several of his classmates were riding.

So we finally all rode as a family to his school for the first time last Friday. It was definitely a little hard for him and we had to take it easy, but he did it, and he was very proud of himself. And I can't tell you how proud I was of him ...

I hope the Freikers program grows and spreads around the country, because it is so sorely needed, for so many reasons.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The need for a lead

I had been considering writing a post on some of the challenges we at SharedPlan have faced on the fundraising front. Specifically, we have worked hard to find a lead investor that 'gets' our segment and business model.

David Cohen has just written an inciteful post on the "emotional angel investor," which pretty much exactly describes who we have been looking for. Of course, it's easy to understand the process to find that person, it's another to execute ... and still drive the business forward.

Fred's MP3 player search

My father-in-law, Fred, recently wrote an email to the family requesting advice on MP3 players. He wants to buy one, and he's going to both buy music on line and rip his own CDs. You should also be aware that, while Fred is a long-time computer user, he's no techie or gadget guy.

I recommended the Apple solution to him, the iPod and iTunes, because it is brain-dead simple to use the complete solution. The software is easy to use, the store is cleanly integrated with the software, and the click-wheel controls and menus are all absolutely intuitive. In addition, the accessory offerings, like external speakers and carrying cases, are much broader because of iPod's market leadership position.

My sister-in-law, Laura, enjoys her Creative Zen Micro, which she uses to listen to her own ripped song collection.

Coincidentally, the NY Times published a review of the non-Nano MP3 players. While the title, "Singing the Praises of the Non-Nano," would indicate that they had raves for the other players, I certainly didn't get that feeling, particularly when you consider the complete offering.

The bottom line for me is that I have tremendous appreciation for Apple's design abilities, and even though I also sometimes bristle at their "sledgehammer marketing" (including their digital rights management stance), I will continue to lust after and buy their products.

And, I will enjoy seeing the failure of Microsoft's new Zune player, as I enjoyed seeing the failure of Dell's.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Entrepreneurs drinking martinis

Last winter, Jeff Bisberg (a very smart guy, cofounder of Albeo Technologies, and a former coworker of mine at Picolight) and I started getting together for the occasional beer or martini to discuss our respective entrepreneurial activities and challenges. We were occasionally joined by SharedPlan's founder, Roger Denton, and we very much enjoyed the free-flowing conversation, ideas, and of course, cocktails.

At some point, Jeff suggested that we start inviting a broader set of people involved in, or at least interested in, entrepreneurship in Boulder. We did so, and 'officially' formed the Entrepreneur's Martini Group. (Someday, in a future post, I'll describe my fondness for the classic martini.) The group has now grown to an invitation list of about 25, and we typically get 12-18 at any event. We meet every 6-8 weeks at a local watering hole.

I enjoy these meetings immensely, because I get very jazzed by the creative energy of these people. Some that have attended in the past include:
  • Pete Rast, founder of Stratasearch, a stock technical analysis software tool
  • Pawel Osiczko and John Horne, who together are a fountain of business ideas and are bound to eventually find the one that works for them
  • Scott Dalgleish, who, along with his wife Susan (who should also attend in the future), founded Dragonfly Innovations
  • Steve Cox, formerly engineering director of Crosswalk but who is now starting something involved with multiprocessor ICs
  • Andrew Funk, who started C-Port, an IC company that was acquired by Motorola, a few years ago and is currently looking for the next opportunity
  • John Ives, founder of a market prediction company (I'm not sure how public he is about the company, yet)
Lots of fascinating conversation, and always good drinks. I feel humbled to be around such smart, fun people, and lucky to live in a place that fosters such entrepreneurial spirit.

If you would like to join us at our next outing, feel free to comment below.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Tech financing trends in Colorado

I recently posted that I went to a Rockies Venture Club meeting. The main event of the evening was a panel discussing the state of technology financing in Colorado. The panel included Seth Levine of Mobius Ventures, Gary Held of CTEK, and Alice Kotrlick, Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

I won't bore you with a synopsis of the evening, but the panelists made a couple of points that I thought were significant.

Seth spoke a little about the cost of starting a Web 2.0 company. Part of why he mentioned this is because I had just pitched SharedPlan as such a company. It has been a bit of a challenge to estimate how much cash we will actually need, so I was keenly interested in these comments. He first stated that enterprise software companies always require $25 million got get going; that's just what they cost. (Salesforce spent about $50 million before generating positive cash flow.) However, the social network dynamics of Web 2.0 let those companies have significantly smaller marketing budgets than traditional companies. Seth stated that these characteristics might mean that they need $8-10 million, rather than $25 million. Sharedplan has some social aspects, since we're building online project communities, but it's difficult to predict the benefits of communal viral activity on our cash flow.

Gary also made an interesting point. He started by describing the growth of organized angel investor groups like CTEK, stating that there are something like 90 of them nationwide now. But then he went into the funding success rates of those who pitch to these groups. Nationwide, the average less than 2%, and West Coast Angels, probably the best known of these groups, last year examined over 600 investment opportunities, but only funded 3. Gary was quite proud that CTEK funded 5% of the companies they saw in the last year. I find those numbers remarkably low. Are there really that many problematic startups out there, or is the process broken?