Hack attack!

“Get to the product demo faster.”

“No one cares where you used to work or what you’ve built before.”

“Save the business model part for the Q&A with the judges.”

The secret to making a great startup competition is the rehearsals. I’ve seen some poor presentations from startups at industry events. Event producers figure they can shove a bunch of startup CEOs on stage and magic will happen. It doesn’t work that way. The reason TechCrunch50 companies — including mine — were interesting was that Jason and Tyler went through several rounds of preparation with all of us. I gave the same advice when I co-hosted the NYC Open Angel Forum and I’ve watched Jason groom hundreds of new companies at his LAUNCH Festivals. As a judge or even as an audience member, it’s great that 100% of the presentations are solid. No one is wasting your time.

The biggest surprise at the LAUNCH Festival was that Jason had applied the same rules to his hackathon. The vetting process was strict. Companies couldn’t just send their HR team into the hackathon to buy everyone beer and do recruiting — unless their HR team had been really active on GitHub!

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The speed of code

The Ceros product team continues to be on fire. Ceros 5.10 added autoplay for background videos, theming for video controls, animated videos, copy and paste between browser windows and faster loading. The decreased loading time is especially impressive.

The way browsers work, you can either load content or have smooth animations. You can’t do both. If you are continuing to load content while showing animations, the animations can stutter and leave little white lines on the screen. Brands use Ceros to create highly interactive content and they pack a ton of images into their marketing pieces.

Let’s say each page in your 10-page experience has 3 seconds worth of images to load. Our Ceros player has three options:

  1. Load the images for every single page before showing the first page. This means waiting 30 full seconds before your customers see page one. A 30-second loading spinner is death for brand content!
  2. Show the first page as soon as the images it needs are loaded and continue loading images for the other nine pages. This gives you only a 3-second wait before page one appears, but if anything on your opening page is animated the animations will stutter while the browser loads those other images.
  3. Show the first page as soon as its images are loaded and continue loading the other images without causing animations to stutter.

Obviously, the most desirable option is number three, but it’s also the hardest one to pull off.

Fortunately, the Ceros product team is clever and the performance results they achieve are amazing.

If it seems like they are pushing new feature-packed Ceros releases faster than I can blog about them, it’s because they are:

The art of interviewing

Back in 2001, I was working for my friend Jason Calacanis at his company Rising Tide Studios as CTO. The dotcom crash was hitting our magazine and conferences business pretty hard. It was tough to put out a monthly magazine with two-page spreads showing hot NYC startups when they were rapidly vanishing. With them gone, who would advertise in your magazine and sponsor your events — or even show up at your events?

So Jason switched gears. (That’s what we called “pivoting” back in the day.) He stopped doing the thousand attendee $1,000 ticket events and he did more focused little summits with 100 CEOs discussing trends and markets that were still being invested in like security, healthcare and wireless. His 100-CEO events were the inspiration for my Meet The Makers events in 2002, partly because I liked the model of qualified free attendees drawing paying sponsors and partly because of my ego. I felt like I was at least as smart as Jason and if he could interview a bunch of people on stage for a living, then so could I.

But my events would feature the people actually doing the work, CTOs, not the people taking the credit for all the hard work, CEOs. Again, in my head it was a direct response to Jason’s events. I even partnered with Jason on the events, which was a smart move. If I’d done them on my own, I would have surely lost money. Splitting the revenue in half with Jason, I actually made money in a brutal year where major conference businesses were dropping like flies.

I did three Meet The Makers events in NYC and SF in 2002 and in 2003 after my son was born I did nearly a dozen more online interviews. I love interviewing people and I appreciate great interviewers like Alec Baldwin and Howard Stern.

Recently, when I was figuring out what to do after Ceros, I considered starting Meet The Makers up again. I felt like I could start with online interviews this time and work my way up to live events. It seemed like a good way to help move Ceros forward from the outside, again avoiding Shared Command.

When I mentioned this to a bunch of people who had seen MTM, the first reaction from all of them was that they enjoyed my interviews, that I was a good interviewer. That felt great.

But I have to say that I no longer have that same conceit that I’m a better interviewer than Jason. After seeing him on stage at the LAUNCH Festival in March and at LAUNCH Mobile in September, he has clearly taken his interviewing game to the next level. He doesn’t seem to have a list of questions in hand. He listens to answers and asks smart follow up questions. And he knows when to end an interview — which is crucial.

I guess doing nearly 400 startup interview shows is great practice.

In a World…

When I took Niki to see Sound City, she reluctantly went along thinking she’d be sitting through some boring Foo Fighters documentary. Of course it has a 100% Tomatometer score and she left the show raving about Sound City to all of our friends. It’s a very powerful movie.

A few weeks ago I took Niki to see In A World… Again, she was indulging me since I’m advising a startup that works with voice actors and, once again, she was blown away. Several times during the movie she told me it was one of the best movies she’s ever seen. It’s really that good.

It’s still playing in a few theaters and you should catch it if you can. It’s a great date movie. And it got a 91% Tomatometer score.

Lake Bell is a genius.

Check out the trailer:

What the fax?

Ceros switched banks and with that move our old credit cards were phased out. I went through every one of the recurring charges that were still being billed to my card and switched them all onto a new corporate card — all except for J2, which I’ve used since they were called Jfax in the ’90s, because I wasn’t able to sign in.

The password I set up for J2 more than a year ago had an exclamation point in it. Let’s say “inept!” was the password, for argument’s sake. When the sign-in for shows me an error, it shows one bullet point less in the field than what I typed: so inept! comes back as •••••. So my guess is that a year ago passwords with ! in them were fine and now they aren’t. No problem, I’ll just get them to reset my password, right?

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SpokenLayer: now hear this

Here’s what happens when I explain SpokenLayer to most people:

“SpokenLayer turns blog posts into audio.”
“You mean they transcribe audio?”
“No. They do the opposite.”
“Why would anybody take perfectly good text that Google can see and turn it into audio? Is this just for blind people?”

Good questions. The best answer I’ve seen is that at some point all of us are effectively blind. Driving a car, jogging, walking a dog. There are so many situations where your ears are free, but your hands and eyes aren’t.

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First Date on Broadway

pointed out that I’ve got a signed program from the Broadway show First Date on my desk. Niki and I saw First Date for our 15th anniversary back in July and we loved it.

When tightly wound Aaron (Zachary Levi) is set up with serial-dater Casey (Krysta Rodriguez) a quick drink at a busy New York restaurant turns into a hilarious, high-stakes dinner. As the date unfolds in real time, the couple quickly finds they are not alone on this date as Casey and Aaron’s inner critics take on a life of their own when other restaurant patrons and the wait staff get into the act. Dinner is served with sides of Google background checks, fake emergency phone calls, supportive best friends, manipulative exes and protective parents, who sing and dance them through ice-breakers, appetizers and potential conversational land mines. First Date is Broadway’s new hysterical and hopeful new musical about the chances we take to find love.

Critics were mixed. It’s not Phantom or Spamalot or The Producers. As one of them pointed out though, if audiences listened to critics, Wicked wouldn’t be sold out month after month.

When we took our seats I only knew it had Zachary Levi from Chuck and that it would be an interesting show to see to celebrate being married. We soon figured out that we had seen Krysta Rodriguez when she was Wednesday Addams in the Addams Family musical. Even with Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth on stage, Krysta was clearly the star of that show.

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The four ways a startup can go

I advise a bunch of companies, mostly startups, and some of them are in the middle of negotiating acquisition offers while they are raising money. At some point they’ll have to choose one over the other.

It always happens that way. If your startup isn’t interesting and you haven’t created any value, investors and acquirers don’t have any attention for you. But when you have built something valuable, both groups want your attention at the same time.

That gives a startup leverage. You can use an acquisition offer to drive up your valuation with investors and vice versa. Jason and I had three investors lined up for our first true investment round the same summer we were negotiating our AOL/Weblogs deal.

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Kangaroo standing desk

I do a lot of sitting in my home office, so a month ago I decided to get a standing desk. Before I even started researching them, I saw my Magento genius friend Bart Mroz post a picture of his new Kangaroo desk on Facebook.

So I compared a bunch of solutions and ordered a Kangaroo Pro from Ergo Desktop. They are sold out, so it took nearly a month to arrive. It’s a great standing desk. It was mostly assembled, but there was an extra bag of long bolts I had to add to keep my 15-pound 30″ Dell monitor from sagging forward and facing the ground. The process was tricky, but now I’m a Kangaroo expert.

Uncertified, of course.

Also featured in this basement office photo:

  • a picture of my wife in nursing school
  • a signed program from First Date on Broadway
  • a heavy metal Iron Man statue from Ceros CEO Simon Berg
  • one of the two incredible 4×8 whiteboards Jason gave me when he moved to L.A.
  • a Question poster signed by the creative team my ComicMix partners gave me
  • my ever-present Starbucks Trenta green iced tea