Friday, May 27, 2011

Highlights from TechCrunch Disrupt New York 2011

Since I couldn’t attend TechCrunch Disrupt in person, I did the next best thing -- streamed it to my computer.  I didn’t get to watch the entire event, otherwise my productivity really would have suffered this week, but I was able to catch some of the highlights right from the comfort of my desk. 

If you missed it, here’s a link to watch the video highlights from the event:

Here’s a few cool start-ups that caught my attention – the winner, a finalist and just a cool, fun company with a cute idea.

Getaround -- Winner

Getaround is a new way for people to conveniently share cars and promises to “disrupt car ownership,” according to the company’s founder and CEO, Sam Zaid.

The idea is that you sign up for the service, which is free, and you can rent your own car out to people and earn money or you can rent someone else’s car for a small fee.

At the show, they announced an iphone app for Getaround, a car kit, and a partnership with Berkshire Hathaway to provide insurance coverage for the service.

It is impressive and has potential to have a big environmental impact if it takes off. I can see this being popular in urban areas where it is sometimes cost prohibitive to own a car but at the same time you need a car from time to time to take you to the places that public transportation cannot.

Congrats to Getaround for winning the big prize!

Sonar -- Finalist

Sonar is about making connections. In his own words, the founder Brett Martin describes it as “a mobile app that uncovers the connections that you all share with you all.”  Ok, so maybe not the most eloquent way to describe a service, but it does sum it up quite well. 

Basically it helps you find people in a social situation who are relevant to you and things such as friends you share on Twitter and Facebook and how you are connected. So, you can quickly track down the people who may be your next business partner, developer or customer.

To do this, it pulls this information from what is already shared about you publicly, so if you are engaged in certain social networks, people can also find you.

What I like about it is that it adds another dimension to the networking scene. In a room full of hundreds of people you can find out who may be relevant to you and worth striking up a conversation with.  What I don’t like about it is that it takes away the spontaneity and mystery of meeting someone new and getting to know them more naturally.

Personally, I would have voted for Sonar over Getaround, but I’m glad it at least made it to the finals.

Gnonstop Gnomes --  Cool Idea

This was an idea hatched out of ChurnLabs by AdMob founder Omar Hamoui.  The product is build around gnomes and having one in your pocket (via your smartphone) that travels around with you and can then be handed off to a friend on their device.

It reminds me of the Flat Stanley concept popular among elementary schools where a student mails Flat Stanley to a friend or relative in another city and that person carries him around for a few days “showing him around” and than mails him back to the student with a full report on where he’s traveled.

The gnome can provide updates on where he is, what he is doing and who he is with.  For example, the one in the demo – Lebowski – visited David Letterman, along with other sites around New York City.

I see this being one of those addicting apps like Angry Birds or Farmville that spreads like wildfire and captures a lot of buzz.

Overall, there were some very impressive companies and technologies showcased at TechCrunch Disrupt.  It will be interesting to see which ones make it big and which ones fade into the sunset. 

It was fun to view the event remotely. Maybe next time I’ll have to attend in person and bring my gnome, use Sonar to meet the people I really need to know, and use Getaround to get around while I am there!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Networking is a Year-Round Process

I’ve always believed in the power of networking and the importance of casting a wide net and keeping in touch with friends and colleagues.  I attend many networking events on both a personal and professional level. 

However, I’ve got a pet peeve when it comes to networking. What bothers me is people who only network when they need something – a job, a client, a sale. While networking is great for these situations, it is also about building relationships and making friendships that far outlast these things.

I’ve heard several people say “I just got laid off so I’ve been doing a lot of networking these days.”  These are people who didn’t have time to go to networking events or be involved in professional organizations because they were “too busy” with their jobs.

My belief is that the more you network and make connections with people, those relationships will pay off in ways you may not have imagined. While I value any business lead that may come through my network, I also place more weight on the connections I make with people.

Networking should be a year-round process, not just something you do when you need something. In fact, most people who network on a regular basis don’t like new people who only show up at an event because they are looking for a job.

There are very few events or groups that I’ve been involved with where I haven’t made a personal connection or new friend.  Sometimes people don’t network because they feel they are not outgoing or won’t know anybody at an event. I’ve felt this way before but have found that usually people are friendly and willing to engage in conversation even if they’ve never met you before.

Eventually, these are the people you know you can call on when you have a question or need a second opinion and conversely, they know they can call on you in their times of need.  Networking does take time, but the return on investment is something you can’t put a price on.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Can Snap Keys Replace Traditional Keyboards?

Imaginary keys? Blind typing? These are the terms Snap Keys is using to describe its new technology that could revolutionize the way we put words on screen.  I first learned about Snap Keys at the CTIA Wireless Show earlier this year where they invested in large monitors throughout the expo to showcase this new technology.

The basic ideas is this – instead of using a traditional QWERTY keyboard, Snap Keys consists of  four “keys” that each represent a group of letters with common shapes.

Pink Key: Letters that include a complete circle in its shape – R, O, P, B, D, Q 

Yellow Key: Letters that stand on one point – T, Y, I, F, J, V

Green Key: Letters that stand on two points – W, H, A, K, X, N, M

Blue Key: Letters that stand on a wide base – E, G, U, S, L, Z, C

When you first learn the keys they appear on your screen, but soon after they disappear and you can literally blind type.  You can find more information about how it works and a tutorial here:

Tablets were all the rage at this year’s CTIA show and with the explosive growth of smartphones and talk of tablets replacing the PC, it’s no wonder that these devices are going to evolve in ways that make it easier for us to interact.

People are always complaining about typing with their thumbs or the incredibly small keyboards that are currently available with these devices. Snap Keys appears to be a technology developed specifically to solve this problem.

I haven’t tested this first-hand, but I think it has a lot of potential as the keyboard is always the challenge for these types of devices. The only question I have is what about symbols and punctuation? Is there a snap key for those? There doesn’t appear to be.

Snap Keys is not yet available, but according to its website, the company is in negotiations with major smartphone and table manufacturers as well as large carriers.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Deals, Deals Everywhere!

If you’re like me, you love getting a good deal. And today, you don’t have to go far to get access to “great” deals on a daily basis. Sites like Groupon, Living Social, and Denver Daily Deals are experiencing wild success as consumers clamor to get the next big deal.

Personally, I’m getting a little overwhelmed by these offers. 

I’ve gotten some great deals this way. However, it is easy to fall into the “good deal trap.”  Is this something I would buy anyway? Is this a restaurant I’ve been wanting to try?  Do I go to this location on a regular basis?  These are the kinds of questions we need to ask ourselves before we click through and buy more than we need.

Retailers are realizing the value of getting people in the door where they can hopefully convert them into long term customers.  Like telemarketers, they wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t work.  But I caution you the next time you see the “Deal of the Day” to think before you buy. 

While they offer a great way for consumers to discover new places and try new things at a lower point of entry, I view them with a sort of yard sale mentality.  Stuff you don’t need but hey -- it’s a good deal – so why not?

Do you think these sites will reach a point of saturation? I’m already starting to ignore the daily emails that infiltrate my email box with 50 percent off this or that.  I’m even tempted to unsubscribe, but I’m afraid I’ll miss a deal on something I really like. So for now, I’ll continue to play this game and hope to not break the bank in the process.