Browsing articles from "March, 2008"

Why I Love User Group Conferences

Last week I attended the Infusion Software user group conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was like being transported by time machine to my first user group conference – a Boston Computer Society gathering way back in 1991.

Of course, those were the middle ages of computing. (No, I’m not a geezer; I was just another kid peddling Shareware programs.) For you youngsters out there, yes, we were connected, but it was via archane transports like CompuServe, BIX, and home grown BBS’s. E-mail was in its infancy.

User group conferences are still one of the best ways to talk to customers away from the many distractions and inhibitions of the typical office environment. I’ve found customers are franker when freed from the confines of their offices. (A note: my MDV colleague Nancy Schoendorf and I invested in Infusion, an eMarketing SaaS company, last year.)

That Boston Computer Society meeting had piqued my interest. The guest speaker was traveling from Seattle to flog a new software platform. Yes, the company was Microsoft and the software platform was Windows. With Windows, Microsoft wrested control of the PC industry from then-mighty IBM.

I saw the advantages of Windows early: it was easy to use, easy to develop for, and there was an incredibly strong outreach to the developer community. For several years, I had been writing and selling Shareware for Windows. Now, I — a 16-year-old entrepreneur — would have a chance to talk to someone at Microsoft.

The room was packed. Brian Moran, today an old friend, gave a demo of Windows 3.0. I mustered up all my courage to introduce myself and slip him a disk with my software. On Brian’s recommendation, a recruiter called and invited me to Seattle for an interview.

Fast forward to 2008. This time I’m on stage with Clate Mask, the chief executive of Infusion. The room is filled to capacity with Internet entrepreneurs. (A few minutes earlier, Clate had asked me to tell the audience why MDV invested in Infusion.) Later, it was my turn to listen. Infusion’s customers described how they are using the product — the variety of ways in which they were implementing it was impressive. Because Infusion’s customers are small businesses, every person I spoke with was an entrepreneur. I was right at home.

Put on a user group conference for your startup and I suspect that you, too, will be surprised to learn just how customers are applying your products. You’ll be able to use that information as inspiration for many new features. And, you may even find a great employee or two in the process.

Mar 15, 2008

The iPhone Really Does Change Everything

Almost a year ago, I wrote about how the iPhone Changes Everything. Response to my blog post varied from vehement agreement to passionate disagreement. Now it’s clear that Apple really is changing the game, with the release of the iPhone SDK.

Until now, the deck has been the be all end all point of control for phones and the carriers who provide the underlying network access. The availability of the iPhone SDK means that any developer can now create an interesting application for the iPhone, and can do so outside of carrier control.

Apple provides tools, a platform, a way to monetize, and distribution. That’s not only an interesting technology change, but a pivotal business model change as well.

On a side note, while IT executives may be skeptical of the iPhone’s corporate e-mail support and Blackberry’s still have the best keyboards, I suspect that more than a few corporate types will be sporting iPhones by this time next year. Consumers have always brought technology into the companies they work for. Apple will be no exception.

Mar 6, 2008