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Archive for March 2011

Metaphors Matter

Metaphors matter. The fact that someone somewhere choose to model our ubiquitous electronic messaging system after "mail" (i.e., "e-mail") matters. If they had chosen to model it after a group therapy session (e-therapy?), we'd be living in a much different world. The metaphor of "mailing a letter" makes email easy to understand (for everyone), and it also sets some early, unwritten limitations.

You can also see that metaphors matter in the early history of Twitter. Twitter went outside of a known communications metaphor - and they've suffered for it (in terms of people not easily grasping it - "what's a tweet?"). At the same time, it might also be the most important choice they ever made (in that it doesn't set early, unwritten limitations on Twitter).

Bottom-line: Metaphors matter.

Here's the rub: you don't always *know* that you're choosing a metaphor to base something on.

Take conferences. In a "conference," the metaphor is a classroom. We're supposed to sit passively in our seats, take notes, absorb knowledge and walk out "educated." Some conferences even give educational credits toward industry certifications. Is the classroom bad? Of course not. Is it a bad metaphor to base a conference on? No, but it does have its limitations. And you can hear that all of the time when you hear folks complain about "format," or session length, or even speakers. Often what they're really feeling is that they're bumping up against the metaphorical limitations of the classroom -- and wishing their experience more matched a *different* metaphor.

The next time you walk into a conference setting, you'll see it. People milling around being nice to each other ("nice" as in "we're expected to have a certain amount of decorum; this is an educational setting"). Music playing very quietly (if at all), and always the kind of music that people are expected to not like or dislike - just don't be offended. There are even conferences that *purposefully* limit wifi in the conference sessions because they "want people to pay attention."

I don't choose education as a metaphor. I think of conferences as experiential vehicles. I know that the sessions, while important, are really about fostering an experience -- one that happens in between sessions, or in the hallway as often as not. I want people to feel energized, upset, disturbed, physically exhausted, motivated, ready to go *do* something when they leave our conferences.

So what's my metaphor? A rock concert. I want loud music, people interacting with the stage, lighting and production, some level of *theatricality* to the whole event.

At this point, you're thinking: "Eric, I've been to other conferences that have music leading up to a rock star presenter, with lots of stage lighting." Yep, I know you have. But it's not the big things that make it work -- it's the original *choice* (or non-choice). Did the organizer choose a rock concert metaphor? Or were they told, "hey make sure the stage is really cool" - and still (often subconsciously) choose the classroom metaphor.

I think you see my point. Metaphors matter. And they matter in the details (not just the lighting).

In the meantime, check out the agenda (which we're updating weekly), and come join us at Gluecon.

It's All About the Developers

I had a company yesterday tell me that they weren't going to exhibit at Gluecon because Gluecon is "developer-focused," and they want to talk to the C-level decision maker types. Now, it doesn't really bother me if someone doesn't want to exhibit at Gluecon (hell, I've *advised* several companies not to), but, for some reason, their statement made me pause.

Specifically, it made me question a choice I made. From the moment the very first Gluecon ended, I knew it would be a developer show. To be clear, we had "C-level" types at the first Glue. We also had developers. One thing was clear: the developers were driving EVERYTHING (including the decision making process) in the cloud.

It's standard enterprise software lore: the CIO makes the decision on some "enterprise-wide" initiative and the big contract is yours. One problem: it's not happening (nor is it going to happen) that way in the Cloud. Reason: APIs and developers.

As we've been saying for several years now, the movement to the cloud is a two-step: 1) turn infrastructure into a "utility," so that the enterprise can 2) easily expose that infrastructure for things like app development, mobile, big data analytics, etc. To be sure, there's money to be made in both 1 and 2 -- but the BIG move (on a time-scale) isn't the move to utility infrastructure. That's inevitable (that's why we position Gluecon as "post-cloud" -- we assume #1). The big move is to expose things to the developers in such a way that improves their efficiency (in development, deployment and maintenance) across several platforms. And one of the huge chunks of that is the API.

That thought process led me to the choice. Focusing on the C-level is to focus on the wrong target. It's the stable target, the "easy" target -- hell, it's the target that your board wants you to focus on. It's also the wrong target. If you want to "win" the cloud, you win the developer (unless you're purely infrastructure -- and even then, you win the admin, not the c-level).

Bottom-line: it is ALL about the developer.

So, when Alcatel-Lucent came to me and said, "hey, we think the cloud is all about APIs and developer. And we wanna help you support them." Well, you can imagine the smile that came across my face. ;-)

If you're a developer, I hope you'll join us. If you're not a developer (and you're a c-level type), you should send your developers (we're the place that's going to provide the most value). See you at Gluecon!

Pressing Your Bets

Contrast these two points of view:

"Dude, as soon as I get up a little, I take my profits and walk away."


"Roulette is a game for greedy people. I'm either tripling my money or going home with zero."

I heard both statements while I was in Vegas over the past few days. The first one was two college kids on spring break that were trying to preserve capital (or in their parlance, "have enough money to get hammered tonight"). The second was made during a marathon five hour roulette session by an indonesian entrepreneur who was regularly raking in 10-15k per win, and walked away from the table up $30,000 bucks *after* paying off his 10,000 dollar casino marker.

And that got me thinking about entrepreneurship, investing, risk -- and specifically "pressing your bets."

Anyone can go to Vegas on a budget, set your capital constraints for each day (i.e. how much money you're going to lose daily), and have a grand ole time just grinding it out at the craps tables. But not just anyone can be grinding it out at a table game (be it craps, roulette, black jack or even poker), and know *when* and *how* to press your bets. In fact, good VCs, entrepreneurs and startup guys and gals of all stripes spend a lifetime figuring out the when and how of pressing your bets. Because here's the thing: if you don't press it at some point, then you're the college kids managing your capital for drinking money, and not the guy walking away from the roulette table up 40k in 5 hours.

(side note: If you're not familiar with the term "press your bets" - it refers to when you win a bet and instead of collecting your winnings, you tell the dealer to "press" it -- i.e. to put your winnings back on the table in some fashion. If you never press your bets and place bigger bets, than the casino's house advantage will *always* win over time.)

The art of it, then, is A) *when* to press your bets and B) how to press your bets.

In the startup game, I'm still learning this. And I think any VC or entrepreneur that's being honest will tell you that learning when to press and how (whether that's a product risk, capital risk, human resources risk, etc) to press are life-long learning processes. With that in mind, a few simple rules for pressing your bets:

1. You need a win to be able to press: You can't just get into a game and press your bets. By definition you have to have won *something* (no matter how small). Similarly, you don't enter the startup game and bet the company on the first roll of the dice. You've got to get some win -- release the product, land a first customer, something.

2. You press when you get "on a roll": Statisticians will tell you that there's really no mathematical basis for thinking you ever get "on a roll" at a table (excepting blackjack). Gamblers will tell you otherwise. And when a roll hits, you'll know it. Suddenly, it feels like the wind is at your back, and you can do no wrong. The hard part about rolls is recognizing that they've started before they're over, while not mistaking a non-roll for being a roll too early. How do you do that? Practice. And when you're on a roll, press. Press hard.

3. When you do press, press without fear: You've got a win under your belt, it looks like you're on a roll, and you've decided to press it. Fine - do so without even the smallest bit of fear. Like a guard dog, the gods of risk management can smell it on you when you're scared. Be the guy at the roulette table -- when you press, you decide that you're going home up big, or with zero.

4. If the "roll" isn't coming, don't get anxious; walk away: Sometimes, the roll never comes. Sometimes, you pick up your chips, down a little bit, and you walk away. Failure's okay. You paid to learn. And that's worth something.

5. Lastly, if you do get on a roll, and you're pressing and winning - tip your dealer: This holds true in startups and Vegas. You didn't get here without help. Be kind to those that gave you a hand when you were just buying into the game.

At the end of the day, all gamblers rely on pressing their bets -- and learning that skill is really what defines someone who knows what they're doing versus someone who doesn't. That's the nature of the game. The only way to change that is to be the house. ;-)

Startup Lessons on Weight Class

I'm catching up on some blog post reading, and just ran into Mark Suster's absolutely wonderful post, "Who Should You Hire at a Startup? (attitude over aptitude)." If you haven't read it yet, go check it out (I'll wait...). I want to address two parts of the post: Finding people to punch above their weight class, and Not worrying about exact roles.

The post reminds me of my early days at Ping Identity. I've recounted my "ping story" multiple times in multiple places, so I won't do the long version here. In short, I was employee #1 (after the founders - CEO, Andre Durand, and the CTO, Bryan Field-Elliot). I became employee #1 by, essentially, "hanging around" (and by hanging around, I mean working 18 hour days for little or no money for months).

Ping built to a seed round with Nokia, and then a Series A round with General Catalyst (sidenote: somewhere in this time is where I first met Brad Feld face to face. We pitched him, he said no.) Suddenly, Ping went from three guys working out of their houses (and a small 12x12 office), to space, a director of finance, a VP of engineering, developers, etc. And I suddenly found myself asking, "um, what is my role?"

Up until that point, I had done anything necessary -- from "biz dev" to early sales to writing whitepapers to marketing to product planning, etc. But when the A round happened, I needed a title. Jamie Lewis (CEO of what was then Burton Group) told me he thought I was a "VP of Marketing," so I did what any good entrepreneurial type would do: I walked into Andre's office and told him I wanted him to tell the new board I should be the "CMO." Now, keep in mind, at this point in my "career," I actually had ZERO marketing experience. I hadn't ever worked for a big tech company doing event marketing, or running programs for lead gen, or even running customer focus groups. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. What I knew I had was a passion for Ping that was unrivaled outside of the founders, and a confidence that I could *do* whatever it took to be "the marketing guy."

I had the good fortune of having spent some good "off time" (socializing) with the board, so several board members (notably, Jeremy Allaire, David Orfao and Dean Leffingwell) took the stance of "alright, let's give Norlin a roll" -- with one caveat: I'm a VP, not a CMO. Dean, specifically, then took me under his wing and began to walk me through some of the more traditional functions of a marketing VP.

By the time Series B hit, the game changed. When we did the B round, we brought in some new investors. And with that, new board members, with new experience sets and new expectations. I suddenly found myself under the microscope as "VP Marketing." To be clear, I don't *blame* those new board members (names withheld) at all for this stance. It was perfectly reasonable. They wanted (as Mark outlines in his post) someone with experience, some who had already been there and done this, not some guy off the street who was learning on the fly. It didn't matter that I was punching WAY above my weight class until this point, they wanted experience.

Again, Andre (and some board members) said, "let's give Norlin a shot (to screw this up)." But now the message came down in a very different way (delivered *by* a member of the board). I'll never forget the conversation. It went something like this, "we're all adults here. So, here's how it's going to go. Your budget is X. The board expects marketing to result in sales leads that generate Y in sales. If that doesn't happen by timeframe Z, you will be asked to either leave the company, or step down to a Director level while we hire someone who can." By the way, the numbers (generate X in sales leads with Y in budget in Z timeframe) were daunting, to say the least.

So, I did what any good entrepreneur would do: started working longer hours and basically killing myself because there was NO WAY IN HELL that this board was going to take away my baby. I was so fully invested in Ping by that point that I didn't think about not being a founder; I felt like a founder. This was my baby! And I'll be damned if you're going to hire someone to sit above me and tell me how to run my baby. Not. Going. To. Happen.

With some good coaching, a smart board (they knew *exactly* what they were doing in the context of my personality), and a little luck, I made it through that period. The leads were delivered. I secured my "title." I learned to punch above my weight class. And I think Ping was better for it (for one thing, they didn't have to pay me as much as they would an experienced VP).

And then, one day I woke up in a meeting about a setting up action plans for another meeting so that we could plan strategy that would lead to a series of meetings. In short, Ping had grown up.

I don't do bureaucracy well. It also turns out, I don't do "exact" roles all that well. I knew there were times when I could close a sale at Ping. But I had to turn it over to sales, who sometimes took the "long way" to the close. Exact roles and the necessary infrastructure of scaling a company just weren't my forte.

So, I once again did what any pushy, headstrong, "I earned my VP title" guy would do: I announced that unless there was a customer on the phone or in the meeting, I would not be attending (this was a bit uncomfortable in that we had a weekly VP and CEO meeting to sync up, and I had just told my CEO that since he wasn't a customer, I didn't have time for him). Yea, that didn't work either. It was clear to me. My baby had outgrown me.

Luckily, I was in a position to walk away (we had just sold Digital ID World -- our "hobby" -- to IDG). So I did. And since I have, Ping has scaled and grown to amazing heights. I barely know anyone that works there anymore (outside of Andre - who has grown into an amazing amazing amazing CEO).

I learned two very important things in that time period:

  • how to punch above my weight class (and the value of hiring people that do).
  • that exact roles weren't my style

    And Mark's post reminded me of that. Thanks Mark! ;-)

    P.S. Mark will be keynoting Gluecon.

Super Early Bird Ends Today

"Super Early Bird" pricing is ending today. You should know, I wanted to name this pricing level "The Worm" (as in "the early bird gets the..."), but I was vetoed by my wife, Kim. So, "super early bird" it is. In any case, it gets no cheaper than today. And if you use the super top secret, "alcatel-lucent rocks" discount code ("alu12"), you can take an additional 10% off of the list price.

Your registration includes workshops on the 24th (space is limited), 2 full days of great content, continental breakfasts, lunches, open bars, hackathons, seriously good wifi, power-strips at tables, and a staff that aims to please.

The latest agenda version is out. The conference is starting to come together, and if you're developing in the cloud or with APIs (building, or just hooking up to them); if you're concerned about NoSQL or scaling your business in the cloud; if you're looking for a show that has the level of technical content you crave and the intimacy and depth of interaction that makes for a special few days, then you really should join us. Register Today!

Calling Out Some Gluecon Sessions

As I mentioned yesterday, the agenda that I look at every day is always ahead of what's posted on-line. On bad mornings, I look at it and think, "what am I doing here? I need to scrap this format, rearrange everything and start over." On good mornings, I look at it and think, "holy crap! This is starting to come together."

This morning was a good morning.

With that in mind, let me call out some sessions that are on the board that may or may not be posted publicly yet:

  • Building Low-Latency, Real-time Apps with Node.js
  • Native vs. Wrapped Apps for Mobile: What to Build?
  • Hooking your mobile apps to the cloud; the good, the bad and the ugly
  • Securing REST APIs with OAuth
  • Exporting Data from Hadoop with ElephantDB
  • Scaling Big Data Search with Solr and HBase
  • The Locker Project and Telehash
  • Map Reducing Blobs: Managing Large File Transfer To or Inside a Cloud

And that's just the beginning. What do you think?

We're working our butts off to make sure that Gluecon is the single most impact-filled conference for cloud/API developers this year. I hope you'll choose to join us.

Tell Him What He's Won!

One of the things we're doing for this year's Gluecon is trying to reach out more extensively to the regional developer communities. One of the ways that we're doing that is by being involved with a bunch of hackathons/startup events -- and then giving the winner a trip to Gluecon. The winner receives airfare, hotel (at the conference hotel) and a free registration, so it's a pretty comprehensive package -- and we're delighted to be doing it (all with the generous help of our partner sponsor and community underwriter, Alcatel-Lucent; everyone say "thank you Alcatel-Lucent").

In that context, I'm pleased to announce our first winner: Evan Jacobs. Evan participated in the eBay speed hackathon that took place at Alcatel-Lucent's ElevenAPI lounge at SXSW, and came out on top. I haven't actually spoken with Evan yet, but as I do, I'll relay details of what he's up to, and what he's building.

In the meantime, look for more details about how to win a trip to Gluecon. The next winner will be the top dog of the TechStars Startup Madness Bracket. And we're working on hackathons in cities around the country, so stay tuned!

Congrats Evan!

P.S. Don't forget that Gluecon's Super Early Bird Pricing expires on Friday.

Gluecon Ramps

One of the great things about running a conference is curating the agenda. Actually, it's probably the thing I enjoy most. I get to have tons of interesting conversations with people that are smarter than I am, act like an industry analyst for a bit, and then try to nail something down that will excite, inform and surprise. Of course, all of that means that the agenda version that's in my head is ALWAYS better than the one that's on-line until about one month out from the show. But, trust me, this year's Gluecon is ramping, and it's going to be special.

If you've been to past Gluecon's, you'll notice right away that the agenda has more solo slots on it. At the end of last year, I checked myself on my mission of "being more technical in the content presented," and, as I expected, I didn't hit the mark (hint: you NEVER hit the mark). One of the format changes to facilitate that a bit more this year is mixing in more solo sessions that are longer. The risk is that we get a dud (60 minutes of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz). The upside is that the sessions are out of this world good. I'll take the upside.

The other thing you'll notice is that "cloud computing" isn't as explicit as a topic this year on the agenda. Don't get me wrong, there's still a ton of stuff that makes Gluecon a "cloud computing" show, but the feedback from the developers in attendance (the *cloud* guys) last year was clear: API, API, API, and - oh yea - API. Basically, if you don't understand that cloud computing is big, go to some other "cloud show." On the other hand, if you know it's big and you want technical content, duh- Gluecon - Winning!

The last thing I'm taking a swing at is a bit more content on mobile stuff. That's really because I have a deep-seeded belief that development for the mobile device in the cloud is the form factor that we're heading toward (even if "mobile device" means tablet). The irony, as many of you know, is that I don't carry a cell phone.

When you mix all of that up, you begin to see this. Like I said, it's still pretty incomplete. But give it two weeks...

In the meantime, Gluecon's "super early bird" (that's earlier than the earliest of early birds) pricing expires this Friday. Use the code, "alu12" (ALU for Alcatel-Lucent, our glorious partner sponsor and community underwriter) to receive an additional 10% off of the price (i.e., to drop it to under $475 to attend Gluecon). The price includes breakfast food, lunch food, open bars at receptions, hackathons, workshops, schwag bags, rock-solid wifi, power strips at tables, and a truckload of 80s hair metal on the conference soundtrack. It gets no cheaper, my friends. Join us.

Apply for your Gluecon Demo Pod Today!

Back in November, we joyfully announced the Alcatel-Lucent Demo Pavilion for Glue. To recap: The demo pavilion will house fifteen demo pods. Those pod companies will be chosen on merit (not their ability to pay), and given free pod space (that includes electricity, signage, hard wired internet drop -- basically, everything - just show up with your computer). They'll be chosen by our distinguished panel of judges (see the previous link).

It's an amazing opportunity for fifteen young startups to show their wares, and interact with hundreds of smart developers, VCs, journalists, etc. In addition, the attendees at Gluecon are going to choose their favorite demo pod company, and that company will be given keynote stage time to present on day 2 of the agenda.

The deadline for applications is March 24th (at 5pm Eastern Standard Time).

Winners will be notified on April 1st (no joke!) and have 48 hours to confirm their participation.

The demo pod participants will then be publicly announced on April 11th. And from there, we'll be pushing them out to attendees, angels, journalists, etc (and I'll have some surprises for you along the way).

There are no "size" restrictions per se, though I have a feeling that our judges will be pre-disposed to companies that haven't already raised 20 million from RockYourWorld Capital.

Think you have what it takes to show up, show your wares, and tell the world? Apply today.

Lastly, it should be noted that none of this would be possible were it not for the amazing support of Alcatel-Lucent. They're the "community underwriter" and Partner sponsor for Gluecon --and those titles *truly* reflect what they're all about. Namely, supporting and partnering with the developer community. Big thanks to Alcatel-Lucent! ;-)

Fast and Furious: March Madness

Did I mention the updates were going to come fast and furious? Yea, so just like we're paying for the winner of the SXSW hackathon to come to Gluecon, we're also going to bring the winner of the TechStars Startup Madness tourney to Gluecon. Check the page out, and then nominate and tweet for your favorite small startup. If they can survive the head-to-head competition with 63 other startups, they're coming to Gluecon (hotel, airfare, and full conference pass -- plus getting 25k in other prizes).

All of these startup competition/hackathon/giveaways play into the Alcatel-Lucent demo pod pavilion that we have at Gluecon. What are those you ask? Go read this. And then apply.

The idea behind Gluecon is really pretty simple: if you're a developer (at a startup, independent, enterprise, whatever) working with APIs and in the Cloud, then Glue is the event for you. So, get involved -- start hacking, nominate yourself to win, apply for a demo pod -- just GET TO GLUE. Trust me, everyone else will be there. ;-)