Archive for the ‘start-ups’ Category

The Brydge for iPad – Review

March 3, 2013 1 comment

I have been meaning to write this for some time now that the Brydge is shipping and it’s been in my hands for the past couple months. Click here to see the video overview of the Brydge if you are not familiar with this iPad keyboard and cover.

The Back Story

A few years ago a friend, Eddy, and I were working together for a startup. The startup was on its last legs and during the summer of 2008 there was no light at the end of this tunnel as most venture capitalists were not willing to invest with the impending financial decline. As a result, we both had an extended vacation. At this point I decided on a career change to pursue Internet marketing with the consumer division of Symantec, started this blog and co-authored a web-comic with another friend.

Eddy went down a different path of self enlightenment and discovery. Eddy was always very creative and good at building things whether it was carpentry, electronics or other types of design. For exaample, while we were still at the start up, he worked evenings and weekends building a Segway. After our days at the start up ended, he spent most of his time at the techshop as a prototype builder-for-hire. When he wasn’t being paid to build something, he was building things out of his own curiosity. Things like colorful 3D printers back in the pre-hype days of 3D printers.

Fast forward to 2012 and Eddy emails me a Kickstarter link to a bluetooth keyboard for the iPad. This was his latest project and it had raised $800K. The promotional tagline for the Brydge was that it made your iPad look like a Macbook Air. This was definitely an interesting concept and the protoype looked very impressive in the videos. There have been other iPad keyboards on the market so what made this one so different? Having known Eddy for so long, I had the impression that it was not only going to be well designed, but functional and might actually make my iPad look like a MacBook Air.

The Review

The Brydge is pretty much what it promised it was going to be in the original Kickstarter campaign. There are now three versions, the Brydge with a brushed aluminum keyboard with or without speakers and a third version with a polycarbonate keyboard. The brushed aluminum version definitely feels more like a Mac keyboard with the same texture and a good weight. The Brydge supports iPad 2, 3rd and 4th generation models.

The element of the keyboard that most impressed me is the ease with which you connect the iPad by sliding into the clamp or hinge of the Brydge. The clamp is extremely well designed, very solid and feels sturdy. Setup is as simple as pairing a bluetooth device to your iPad.

Carrying around the Brydge connected iPad is like carrying a Macbook. The iPad easily folds down on the keyboard, looking like a clamshell and goes to sleep. There is a little extra weight added onto your iPad with the Brydge, but that makes the product feel that much more stable when placed on a table with no fear of the iPad tipping over when it is open. The clamp also alllows you to display the iPad in a range of angles depending on your preference, going from 90 degrees or greater if you want to get just the right angle to view a movie on your iPad. If you can image giving a presentation on your iPad or letting your kids use it for games or videos, this flexibility is a life-saver.

The keyboard itself works great and is very responsive, springing back upon touch as I type. You’ll have to get used to the width of the keyboard which matches the length of the iPad resulting in a more compact layout. Nonetheless, it takes no time to adjust and you’ll be blogging away in minutes. Also, the keyboard sleeps after a minute or so of non-use further maximizing battery life. Typing a key wakes the keyboard up within a second or two. One hidden gem of the keyboard is it runs up to 2 months between charges…seriously?

The Brydge is available online at and goes from $150 for the polycarbonate version to $220 for the brushed aluminum with speakers. The aluminum version are on back order due to high demand. I have used the Brydge with and without speakers and find the speakers to be a nice to have, but not needed for everyday use.

If you happen to get the Brydge sometime in the near future, you’ll wonder how you were able to use your iPad without it especially when typing emails, blogs or note-taking. In the meantime, here is a closeup of the Brydge for your visual pleasure.


Turning Product Development into a Process

January 13, 2009 1 comment

A product manager’s best friend is data. Without data you are left with opinion and predjudice. With data you can have great discussions about tradeoffs, impacts and data forces people to deal in the ‘real’ versus ‘what if’ world. Digging into my product management roots, I thought I would share one of the tools we used to track project releases, release contents and keep product development on the same page with marketing. This tool is called the ‘Product Calendar‘ and it is an Excel spreadsheet. Pretty innovative, no?

How much simpler can managing releases via an excel spreadsheet be? Take a look below.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Template-ProductCalendar“, posted with vodpod


How It Works

  • Each release bucket is represented as a column and features are represented as rows. 
  • Columns are designated with a release date and an overall status at the top: Planning, Development, Released, etc… If a feature does not look like it will make the release, it moves to the right into the next column i.e. next  release. 
  • Based on the readiness of the feature it moves up or down the colum. To get above the bold black line the feature has to be defined somehow in the form of a PRD, spec, wiki page to the point where engineering knows what is being built. To move above the thick gray bar, QA must sign off on having tested the feature.

The magic of this method: everything that goes on the spreasheet must fit on an 8.5 x 11 in. piece of paper. It doesn’t matter how small the font is and you can’t roll over to a second page. What does this accomplish? It forces the organization to make tradeoffs with features/resources/time and it gives a very simple format for marketing, engineering and QA on which to base that discussion. It is very easy to over-commit on features and delay releases, especially in start-up world.

Updating the Calendar

Every week we would have a Product Calendar meeting with the product managers and engineering and QA managers. Everyone is expected to come prepared on the status of how the features are doing, if the feature is ready for QA, completed testing, etc… The features would move up/down or right/left In reality not everyone came on time, but that changed over time as peer pressure kicked in.

In Summary

Here are a few reasons on why I found this to be such a helpful tool. 

1. It is basically a very well organized excel sheet. Most people are allergic to overly complex project management tools but everyone knows how to use excel.

2. Everything fits on one page making it easy to get a complete picture of the product details going out 6-9 months.

3. It forces great discussions on resources, priorities and product strategies.

Finally, I was introduced to the Product Calendar and this process by Dr. Russell while we worked together at GigaFin. It takes a little time to get everyone use to the process, but then it becomes second nature.

Mobile Friends – Meebo Style

November 8, 2008 Leave a comment

Meebo comes to G1

Meebo on G1

I wrote a post earlier about the Google App Market on the G1 being one of it’s greatest features. It got even better this past week with the addition of the meebo application for G1. For those of you unfamilar with meebo, it is a web site that keeps you connected to all of your IM networks from a single browser page. I have been a big fan of meebo for a awhile because it allows me to see all of of my Google, MSN and Yahoo IM contacts in a single list, from any computer and I don’t need to install any software. This works great because sometimes I don’t have my computer with me. What more can you ask for?

When it showed up in the Google App Market, I was ecstatic!! Prior to the meebo app, the G1 had separate apps for each IM account which was not very practical. With meebo for the G1, I am now have the ability to easily IM my friends from anywhere, with or without a pc.

IM from Anywhere with any Buddy

The biggest drawback with IM for me was the fact that even though it had been a very good tool for instant communication with a colleague or group of people, the lack of interoperability between different IM systems was a drag on the technology. I mean can MSN, Google, Yahoo or AIM realistically believe that their customer’s friends will all be on the same IM network? Or that they could force their customers to change to their network? Of course not.

Taking a page from the e-mail playbook, IM is becoming more of a standard and the IM vendors are starting to understand that it is in their best interest to open the path for interoperability with different systems. This network agnostic approach has worked beautifully in e-mail to spur innovation to the benefit of the consumer. There are applications that have taken advantage of multi-IM integration…see Trillian. Meebo has taken this to another level with ‘access anywhere’ from a Web browser and exceptional ease of use. Simply get onto a computer, now mobile device, and connect to all your buddies.

Like I said I have been using meebo for months, have been extremely happy and would recommend to anyone with multiple IM accounts or if you just need to contact you friends while you without your pc.

Disclaimer: I don’t work for meebo, but it sounds like a nice place to work and they are really pushing the envelope.

Cash flow crunch

October 14, 2008 Leave a comment

I was going to write a blog entry earlier this week about the importance of having cash on hand, regardless if you are an individual or a start-up, due to the current economic crisis. Then out of the blue I run across this post and powerpoint about Sequoia Capital telling their portfolio companies to batten down the hatches and extend the runway as far as possible. This is a great lead into what I originally wanted to write about…

One can argue that an experienced financial manager is becoming increasing important to have at a start-up. In some ways it may even provide a strong competitive advantage by knowing when to conserve cash, open the coffers for strategic opportunities and go for funding. Running a business is no easy task, and having to deal with the cash flow makes it even more difficult in today’s economy.

So how does one ensure the doors are open, money to fund growth is available and still keep morale up?

Here are is what I would as CEO of a start-up company that was barely cash flow positive or losing money and have 3-6 months cash on hand.

  1. Re-evaluate business priorities and revenue outlook. Assume worst case in the pipeline and prioritize products, segments, markets you are going after. You get nothing for free and at times like this, staying focussed and saying no to distractions will be the difference between surviving and having your company name sitting on an Internet tombstone someplace.
  2. Cut staff and expenses to get an additional 3-6 months runway. The standard way to do this is have each dept. rank employees and then have the exec team review company priorities against headcount and start listing people that do or don’t make the cut. Make the cuts quick and ensure you only have to do it once. The worst scenario is to drag out the inevitable resulting in unnecessary rumors and multiple cuts which would destroy morale.
  3. Win back the confidence of your employees by reinforcing that the changes you made are to grow the company in these difficult times and that they will be rewarded. The worst ting that can happen is making cuts to keep the most valuable people and then have them leave for another job. Make sure that you make it financially rewarding for people to stick out the bad times. There are too many outside forces going into everyone’s decision making that you cannot risk losing valuable members of your team. Promising upside on sales growth, positive cash flow or specific company metrics is a good place to start. Cutting back on high risk sales/product projects that are distractions from the company’s core focus help reinforce to the staff that the exec team understands the need to batten down the hatches. Deliver a story to the employees that gets them all moving 100% in the same direction.

Is there a full proof way to stay afloat over the next 12-18 months? Of course not. But making that journey with a group of people who all trust in one another and trust in the management team’s ability makes that journey all the more enjoyable.

Cash is king if you want to keep peace of mind

If you have ever been married, you know that you are not just marrying your spouse, but also adding their family and friends to your extended family. On that wedding day, you also introduce new demands on your time such as yearly visits to the in-laws, requests for grandchildren and an endless stream of birthday parties, anniversaries and baby showers. To make sure you keep your sanity, it is critical to maintain a budget that can afford these activities or at least know when to say no. You risk increasing debt and hungry creditors without an effective budget. Being pulled in all different directions with new expectations is a predicament that any CEO of a start-up company can sympathize with. In their case the critical event is not marriage, but rather taking in venture capital. So in order to delay this outside funding event for as long as possible, here is another tip for start-ups: preserve as much cash as possible. As for delaying the marriage event, you will have to take that up with your spouse.

Cash is King
Extending cash and keeping a low burn rate is a pretty simple concept in principle but difficult in practice. Beg, borrow and steal to get your product to market and start building a customer base. The most important thing you can do with your seed or angel money is to build your prototype, identify market demand, demonstrate your team’s ability to execute and get customers that will vouch for the problem you are solving. Do odd jobs to get extra income, pool money from family, friends and relatives to help with cash flow. The extent to which you can keep funding your business on your own without the need for VC funding, the better off you will be in the long term.

Why is this so important?
Once you open your company to outside board members, especially institutions, you have accelerated your expected time to revenue and some type of liquidation event. Most VC firms are not in the business to just build companies that last with year over year returns, they are in it to get a high return on their investment. Going back to the marriage analogy, taking VC money is like adding a father-in-law and mother-in-law and daily reminders about grandchildren. If that is along the same timeline as you and your spouse, then you should not have a problem with it.

For some, venture capital is a required next step. If so, here is a post on Rick Segal’s blog with an overview of the funding process.

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Lunch in or out – the company culture dilemma

Blue Mango, Santa Clara CAI have read a few blog entries about the need to bring lunch in so that workers stay in the office. There is an opposing view that it doesn’t really gain the business much by providing free in-house lunches.
My personal opinion is that this type of activity by itself will not build or break a start-up. You might see this as a way to gauge the personality of the team. Do they like hanging out together? One solution is to have a blended lunch in/out model where you pick a place close to the office to have lunch for the team. It gets everyone out of the office and to a neutral place where they can bond. It makes sense when the number of people within the company is manageable.

Company Culture
Going back to the point about team personality. It cannot be stated enough how important teamwork and company culture are critical to a group of people achieving their goals. Beyond just serving lunch, there are other areas to look at that help to form company culture. For example, does everyone work on the same office schedule, is the layout of the building conducive to working together and is the reporting structure flat or a hierarchy. All of these are important aspects but I’ll start with the first question this time and talk about the others another time.

Does everyone work on the same office schedule?
If your sales, marketing, engineering and exec team all work different hours with limited overlap, then you will run into problems. I am a firm believer that in a start-up you should work the same hours as your customers and your engineers. Thus if your customers start calling at 8am and your engineers are at work until 10pm, then the other parts of your organization should model themselves around these hours. That may mean being accessible on email early in the morning or late a night, but it is critical to be within a Skype session or phone call away. This becomes much more difficult when you are servicing different regions, but that just means it is a test of your companies commitment to success in these foreign regions. If you are a 9 to 5 type of person and don’t check e-mail or IM at home, then please spare your start-up co-workers and join a grocery store or bank.

Why a blog on lunches?
Company culture is one of the most difficult aspects of start-ups to establish since it is essentially determined by the relationships between individuals and their sense of responsibility to the group. There are no magic tricks to build a perfect company, but you can start by building around the right people. And when it comes to lunch, your employees might already have their favorite lunch places or afternoon coffee hang outs. It may be a good idea to facilitate those ‘out-of-office’ meetings as much as reasonably possible.

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Moving full speed, full stop and back to full speed

TitanicWhen you have an ocean liner running at pretty good clip and then throw on the brakes, you can imagine the impact on the ship and resulting waves. Then when you try to get the ship going again, it takes time to rev the engines and get momentum. No easy task.

I am in a similar stage after spending the last four years works at a start-up and having recently left at probably one of the most invigorating times during those four years. The recovery process has already begun. I spent part of the morning with a few co-workers reminiscing and thinking up ideas for new stuff to build and potential business opportunities. The challenge now becomes taking enough time to decompress while not losing that killer instinct to build something new and exciting.

I ran across a job site called which seems to be a good overview of new opportunities. Some interesting stuff, especially outside of the industries I am more familiar with.

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