Wednesday, August 29, 2007


If you have teenage girls, then chances are they've visited The story behind the website is fabulous and a real illustration on how almost anyone with passion and determination can find/create and in this case, stumble into their business startup online. Ashley Qualls, age 17 created a website for her peers that serves up more than 60 million page views and month and is ranked higher than Oprah. Fast Company has a nice article about her in their last issue.

You go girl!!

How time flies

Today marks the two year anniversary of the public launch of Pandora.

If you've never used Pandora, click over to their website and start your own personal music stream.

Now they just need to get an iTunes plug-in so I can stream my Pandora music right into iTunes and across to my Airport Express speakers that I have all over the house. Or Apple can just do the smart thing and buy them and do it themselves. ;-)

Being socially responsible

A longtime friend and business partner, Bruce Baikie has been working on this project for a while and I wanted to bring it to everyone's attention here. is building hardware infrastructure to bring data services to areas of the world with little to no electrical and data capabilities thought their solar powered WIFI access points. The secret sauce is their power management system (patents applied for) that give the units almost a 100% uptime over a month even through cloudy and nighttime conditions.

While the "$100 laptop" project is noble, without internet access, those laptops have a rather limited functionality. Bruce and the group at Green WiFi aim to fix that.

Why comments on Digg suck

The folks at nailed it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The new Net

Do you Twitter? Do you have a Facebook profile? What does your avatar look like? Do you still listen to FM or do you Pandora or Do you Digg, or have tagged?

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then you are probably married and over 35 years old - give or take a few years and probably have young children under 6 in the house.

Sure, the internet is still your stomping ground with Amazon,, instant messaging, Ebay and now you think blogs are cool and hip. You buy a lot online from, Zappos and the like, but you still call your friends with you land line or mobile even though you get asked to get on Skype.

I've got some bad news for you. The next net has passed you by and isn't targeted towards you. Bummer, eh?

When did this happen? And more importantly, how?

Its easy. The guys (and gals) that are building the new Net are single, young and use technology in a completely different way than you. You see your mobile phone - they see an IP capable device. They don't have or pay for POTS (plain old telephone service) lines and never will. They're world is mobile. On the move. Sure they'll settle down just like you - eventually. But until then the world's spinning and they're running hard and fast to develop net apps that work in their world of entertainment, communications and of course, dating.

They're not building the net for you. They're building it for themselves.

They're creating virtual worlds while at the same time connecting in the real world in new ways. Every day. All night. Plugged in. Powered on and volume cranked.

Their work will effect your world. It already is changing around you in ways you can't imagine.

Sprint's big bet

Sprint has made quite a large bet with their upcoming Xohm WiMAX based data services. WiMAX is WIFI, but with longer range enabling better area coverage by less access points. (Think 400+ points for Google to unwire Mountain View and Sprint can do it with 2 or 3 towers.) Its more of a cross between an EVDO network but with the greater speeds of low end WIFI.

How big of a bet is Sprint making? $5 billion. Pretty decent amount of cash, and I'd bet on it too if it was my money.

They've got the towers, data network to the towers and with the recent acquisition of Nextel, the business customer based to eat it all up.

Its a classic net access land grab and the clock is ticking.

Who should be threatened by this? Sure most people are talking about Sprint v. other mobile carriers, but Sprint doesn't have them in their sights. Sprint is after the fixed broadband customers by giving them not only high speed access, but giving them roaming capabilities which they can't get with cable or DSL. They're not going to compete on a level playing field, they're going to play by a new set of rules. Ones that they'll define.

The other effect of a technology like this is that 802.11x enabled devices will explode. WiMAX enabled cameras, handhelds (hmmm, WiMAX Apple iPad would be amazing - hint hint) and so on.

If Sprint was really on the ball, they'd pull a master service provider play and provide reseller access to the network and really accelerate the adoption of the network.

That's what I would do.

My mobility tools, or Things I can't live without

1. Google Maps on my Treo 700p. When Google first announced it, I was overjoyed. I had been struggling with web based mapping solutions on my Treo when traveling and having the app native to my phone has been a lifesaver. I didn't realize how much I used it until last spring when I was in London and my Sprint based Treo didn't work over there.

2. Macbook Pro. Since 1994 I've not had a desktop computer and my latest and greatest MacBook Pro doesn't leave me wanting to go back anytime soon. There's nothing I can't do on this machine. Period.

3. EVDO card for my MacBook Pro. I've raved on this before - no matter where I go I've got 1.5mb down/384k up. No hunting for WIFI and I can truly be mobile and not sacrifice any internet activity as a result.

4. SnapperMail on my Treo. Its fast, easy to use and nobody knows I'm away from my MacBook Pro.

5. Treo 700p. Yeah, its still got the antenna, crappy camera and its not the smallest thing in the world, but it has a full sized keyboard, EVDO, open development architecture, replaceable battery and it doesn't crash on me. Now we just need to make it better.... (I'm working on that!)

6. DaKine Terminal Backpack. Back in the 80's they started making surfing leashes and windsurfing footstraps. Now they make the best computer backpack on the planet. The best part? Its not too small, and its not too big. Its just perfect in size, built to last and ergonomically easy on your back and shoulders. (and it comes in cammo!) ;-)

7. Original Apple Nano iPod. Still the best looking iPod ever made. Precursor to the iPhone design. Great for airplane use, snowboarding, etc.

8. Bose Quiet Comfort II noise canceling headphones. This is my second set - the first set was destroyed in a bizarre airline seat accident. I prefer the II as the earcup goes over your ear for maximum noise protection.

9. Eclipse 500 VLJ (pictured). Nope, don't actually own one of these. But its next on the list. ;-)

Lessons learned

Talking to business owners over the past few years, there's a recurring theme around their general business operations that is on the front burner for everyone : Doing more with less.

Either building more product with less, selling more with less, etc. When I say "less", I'm 99% referring to staff.

The 2001 dot com burst combined with 9/11 forced businesses to change their operations, "or else". Since "or else" wasn't really an option for anyone, they evolved.

Today their businesses are booming but the mindset hasn't changed. Its great to see that this lesson was learned when things were lean, and not forgotten as times improved. Everyone I talk to realizes that the excess waste from before is now best utilized for growth and opportunity as they roll forward.

Try this exercise - look at your staff. You HAVE to fire one of them. No way around it, someone has to go. Picked someone? Good. Now look at their total cost to you in terms of salary, insurance, taxes, etc. and plug that number that in sales or marketing to grow your business.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Viva revolution!

As everyone walked out of the MacWorld Expo Keynote last January, spellbound at the prophecy that Steve so gloriously delivered to all fanboys, it struck me : While the iPhone was a heck of an announcement, it was what WASN'T announced that was almost as cool. No, it was even cooler.

I mean, WAY COOL.

Let me indulge your imagination for a second. Imagine a lineup of Apple products with the iPhone dead center. To the left you would have the lesser capable ipods, and to the right would be a MacBook, then a MacBook Pro, etc.

There should be an additional products both to the right and left of the iPhone.

To the left should be a widescreen iPod. Cool, but we all expect that.

To the right should be a larger iPhone. A small tablet computer if you will. Its not quite a MacBook, but its more than an iPhone with its larger screen, more storage, "smart ports", optional bluetooth keyboard/mouse and other little goodies.

This is the product that we all want the iPhone to be. A truely ultraportable Mac. Something that can run third party appls. A device that fully takes the idea of ubiquitous computing to the next level.

Regardless of the genius of the hacking done on the iPhone, it will not, CAN NOT, be this device. Apple's relationships with the mobile carriers, etc. prohibits the iPhone from being a full development platform. This new device doesn't come with the restrictions of the iPhone 'cause its not tied to the carriers. Sure you can add an EVDO card, etc. but this device only ships with WIFI and bluetooth as network connections.

What Steve showed us in the keynote is that Apple can, AND WILL be sticking OSX into all sorts of devices that we wouldn't have considered possible a year earlier. Apple's little "hobby" product, AppleTV can run OSX. The iPhone runs OSX. These are both sub $500 units that are essentially fully capable OSX machines.

That is the hidden revolution.

Steve had to drop "Computer" from the Apple brand. They aren't a computer company anymore and haven't been for a few years. Changing its name was the public acknowledgement that Apple is no longer just a computer company brand and signaled their intentions to spread into other areas. Apple is transforming into a LIFESTYLE brand. The war isn't about computers anymore, because computers aren't what they were 20 years ago.

Microsoft kinda gets it, but can't execute to save their lives. Sure they still slay revenues with Office and Windows, but Apple's large revenue and profit growth is coming from new product sectors in ways that Bill can only dream of.

And its not just Microsoft that should be scared. In the 80's SONY defined the ultimate lifestyle brand. Now they too look longingly at Apple. What about the music industry? Today the music comes through traditional music labels, but that business model was based on radio distribution. Apple changed that too with iTunes. I'd suggest if they're not scared now, they should be.

The bottom line is that Steve's vision is more far reaching than what we've seen. His vision is truely revolutionary and when you see him smile, you now know what's behind that devilish grin that makes you think he knows something you don't.

Let the revolution begin!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Seriously, WHY?

Here's a shot of the guy next to me yesterday on my flight. I've been seeing this for years. Folks with a Blackberry AND a normal mobile phone. They look up numbers on their Blackberry and then enter in the numbers on their other phone and make the call. Back and forth, etc. etc.

Seriously, what's the deal here?? And I'm not talking an oddity - I'm talking every week I'm flying and see multiple people on the plane with me doing this. There was a woman across the isle from me doing the same thing. If this isn't a statement to how crappy the Blackberry is as a phone, I don't know what is.

I can't imagine making my staff work this way. Whomever is in charge of their IT group is a total moron. And the scary thing is that there's gotta be a lot of those morons out there considering the number of folks I see with this setup.

On the plus side, they are really good at thumbing two handed phone manipulation. ;-)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Just one more thing...

Well, there's no doubt that the iPhone has plenty of folks hacking away on it and they've been amazingly successful in their work to get access to the OS, get applications up and running and unlock the phone for use on other networks. (though the latter takes some hardware hacking to make it happen. UPDATE 8/24 Unlocking is done software only.)

Apple released two firmware updates that were focused on fixing bugs in the unit, but I suspect that there's a larger update in the works that will attempt to thwart all the success of the hacking community on the platform.

Ok, I more than suspect this. ;-) I've got it on authority that this is coming down the pipeline. Of course, we'll have to wait and see just how effective it is and I'm sure the next round will go to Apple, but there's one thing in this world you NEVER want to underestimate. The will and power of the Hacking community.

Apple's going to square off against the hackers, whether they want to or not, they have to do this update in order to keep their relationships with the mobile carriers and the music and video/movie moguls that they are partnered with. Is it the right thing to do? Yes and No. Both ways have merit and Apple needs to Do What's Right for its partnerships, but they also need to Do What's Right for the development community out there.

The community is sending a message - they WANT to develop applications for the platform. After all, the iPhone is really a handheld OSX machine - its plain nirvana for Mac addicts and their software development will take the iPhone into uncharted territory and success.

This makes a lot of sense to the rest of us, but we're all on the outside. We're outside the walls the the Apple campus and most of all, we're outside of Steve's mental vision for the platform. Perhaps the iPhone is just supposed to be what it is, a phone, an ipod and an internet communicator and nothing more.

What if what we all want will be "just one more thing" at this year's MacWorld Expo?

After all, there's a product gap between the iphone and the MacBook. Well, to me there is. ;-)

What if?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

iMac porn

I'm setting up a new 24" iMac for the road show this fall, and its a really sweet machine. I have it on my desk right now and the only downside is that it makes my 22" look and feel real small. (sigh)

I have to admit I peeked at the 30" LCD's at the Apple store this afternoon. ;-)

Jump the shark

This morning when I saw that the Zune was on Woot for essentially half price, my first thought was, "Wow, they sure jumped the shark on this one!"

Jump the shark they did. The worst part - I'll bet they don't sell out.

I also just noticed that the official Zune website is a .net domain. Now THAT'S funny. ;-)

UPDATE - Ok, they sold out. Whew!

Saturday, August 18, 2007


I get asked all the time how I come up with all my business ideas. "Its easy," I reply, "I just look for friction in the world."

Friction is a force that opposes and this opposition creates heat. This heat is waste, and in business, friction indicates opportunity for someone to do whatever it is better. WITHOUT FRICTION. (ie. without waste)

The success of the iPod isn't because its a killer MP3 player. There are plenty of players with more features, cheaper, etc.

The friction wasn't the player. The friction was in how consumers imported, managed and bought their music.

The success of the iPod is iTunes.

iTunes+iPod now rules the music world and has arguably taken control of the online (pay) video world. The only real big online play that they've not moved in on is the porn industry. I think those guys are safe from Steve and company. ;-)

And then they jump into the phone business 'cause there's lots of friction there too. The most disruptive thing about the iPhone isn't the phone. Its the way that Apple is changing how the mobile game is being played. And that's something the phone carriers don't like. Nobody likes the guy that rocks the boat.

Look around you. Where do you see consumer frustration, confusion, or obfuscation. Look at what's really going on and see if you can figure out at way to do it better.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Sometimes products in the marketplace can effect purchasing decisions made by customers. For Northwest Airlines, and others, the CRJ (Canadair Regional Jet) is a good small jet with 50 seats that is economical to fly between hub cities and smaller destinations. They may be good for the bottom line, but there's one truth about them that cannot be denied : Customers hate flying on them.

When looking for flights, I'm bound by schedule and price. However, I ALWAYS look to see what is listed in the "equipment" entry for the flights that I'm booking. (yes, I book all my own flights) If I see "CRJ" in the entry, then I look at other options. Granted, I'm never on one of these planes for more than an hour, but it's a useless hour as its impossible to get any work done on that plane, a by-product of the annoyingly tight seats (I'm 6'3").

Talking to other business travelers, I hear the same repeated time and time again.

It makes me look at our products and services to see if we have a "CRJ" in the lineup. Thankfully when I query customers, I don't believe we have one.

Do you?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Change of plans

I'm in Houston today and the arrival of tropical storm ERIN has forced me to modify my travel plans a bit. While it didn't negatively impact my business in Houston (I got the deal done), it did however open up some additional opportunities as I'm routing back home through Detroit instead of Minneapolis and there's some opportunity there that I'm going to jump on.

When situations change and you are forced to change your established plan, are you being put into a losing situation, or do you reshape your fortunes to come out ahead?

My goal was to avoid the weather, and see where my options took me. When I saw Detroit as a possibility, I jumped on it. Had I been focussed on just making sure I got home, I would have missed out.

Monday, August 13, 2007

What did you do last weekend?

Did you launch a product?

Here's an interesting idea. Get together with a bunch of highly talented people on Friday, hammer all weekend and launch a beta on Monday.

Success? Failure? Check out the blog yourself. Regardless of the outcome, the experience was unique and hopefully positive for those involved.

What are you doing next weekend?

To infinity and beyond!

A good friend and I were chatting this morning about the heat tile damage issue with the shuttle and the conversation turned to, "What's next?"

He wants a Star Trek Enterprise. Hell, who doesn't? Still, we need to do a few things first.

1) Low cost mid earth orbit lift vehicles in the 40k-60k payload range.

2) Low cost mid earth orbit people lifter.

3) Keep expanding the space station - actually add another on a better orbit as more of a transfer station for lunar missions.

4) Lunar transfer vehicle that runs orbital routes between earth and moon

5) Lunar transfer station

6) Lunar surface station (with lunar orbital lift vehicles)

There's no way for us to get all the materials needed for off planet missions by lifting it from the surface of the earth into orbit. Fuels and materials need to be mined and fab'ed from the moon and other sources.

These solutions (and more) are already in the pipeline, and most of them from commercial ventures, not NASA. (Thank God) Now don't get me wrong, I'm a big NASA fan. But the commercial sector can, and will, do it better. Remember folks, NASA may have FUNDED the space program, but American companies BUILT the space program. Mercury, Gemini and Apollo and the shuttles were all built by American (and select international partner) companies.

Today we have startups that are going to space. Everyone's heard of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne that won the $10 million X-Prize in October 2004. They're now contracted to build SpaceShipTwo for Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. My former business partner George French is living the dream with KistlerRocketplane which is tackling both the commercial lift vehicle AND civilian spaceflight projects. Not easy, or cheap to do.

It is a dangerous and expensive undertaking for sure. But the rewards, both monetarily and emotional/spiritual are out of this world. Literally.

God speed!

Which way are you looking?

You might be missing out on opportunity simply because you were looking the wrong direction.

Turn around.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The best things in life are free (take II)

After an epic weekend with friends and family (have a safe flight back to Madrid guys!) I took some time this evening to find a nice cozy spot on the shoreline to take in the Perseids meteor shower tonight. I'm on a 6:40am flight tomorrow morning so I didn't stay out as long as I would have liked, but I still lucked out and saw some killer meteors. If you get a chance, wake up a few hours before dawn and look northeast. Unlike other showers that peak around one night, the Perseids will deliver for a few more nights.

It was a real treat to relax by the water's edge with the lapping of the small waves against the rocks as a perfect audible side dish to the main course overhead.

Startup events

There are two really good events for startups coming up this September. DEMO Fall and Techcrunch20. For those of you who are interested to see the latest and greatest startups, then these two events back to back should provide plenty for your brain to digest. For those of you who are either looking to start or looking for money (isn't that the same thing?) you should pay close attention to the demo's and pitches as for what works, what doesn't and if you were on stage, how would you have demoed your startup.

Techcrunch20 is a new event - Michael announced it at DEMO last time and I think he's got a good event in the works. Unlike DEMO, the folks pitching didn't pay to be there, they are selected. Chris's DEMO is a tried and true event that delivers for everyone who attends. I had a great time at DEMO spring 07 and the connections I made there were excellent. I ended up sitting next to Walt for the first day - that's another story...

Got your pitch? Win some cash! - a place for startups to post their video pitches to folks with money is going to be handing out cash and prizes to winners of their pitch competitions.

Got a camera and need cash? Shoot your pitch, upload it and go for it!

The first contest was to pitch Tim Draper on your billion dollar idea.

Interesting. Certainly entertaining.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Rogue iPhone development

When the AppleTV came out, I was amazed by the amount of hacking folks did on the platform. Getting OSX installed and creating the cheapest Mac ever was pretty sweet. When the iPhone was announced I had a nice chat with the guy sitting next to me at the Keynote about how we thought the iPhone would be hacked. Seeing how things have been going since June 29, I'd say we both underestimated 1) the number of guys hacking on the iPhone and 2) the speed and quality of the hacks.

Today some enterprising folks announced that they have Doom running on the iPhone. Earlier this week someone else released a NES emulator for the iPhone as well.

I don't think Steve saw this coming. I'd bet he's not too happy about it, but I'd suggest that he Do The Right Thing and release a dev kit for the iPhone. Why not? Its happening regardless.

Pocket change

I don't know why, but for the past few weeks I've been getting calls from VC's just about every day. Some are the usual analyst calls where they just want to pick your brain about your business to get some ideas on where the industry is going. Some calls are trying to stir up some business to help with a financial 'event' - liquidity, etc. but about 1 in 10 are guys who are serious about cutting checks.

These guys (and gals - sorry Laura!) are working hard to commit their fund to the market. Most of these funds are north of $500 million, so writing $500,000 to $5 million checks just isn't going to cut it for them. Their "standard" low end round would be $20 million because no matter the size of the round, the amount of work required is about the same every time. As long as you are going to do all that work, you might as well write a nice sized check. Especially since you have to work through, say, $750 million dollars. That can take a lot of checks (and work).

This of course would be ideal for them, but not all businesses require that amount of capital, plus most rounds typically (not always) involve a few funds.

Today's web 2.0 (there, I said it) startups are very frugal and don't need a lot of money to get off the ground. This has been a great time for angel funding and many of the successful web 2.0 companies got started with $250,000 or so of angel money. Once their service takes off, it takes money to scale and that's fine. The angel has a decent rolodex and smart VC's (Fred, etc.) are keeping a sharp eye out for these high fliers and can take them to the next level.

There's a fund here in NE Wisconsin that has a whopping $10 million to invest. (it's actually less than $10 million, but we'll cut them a break here) I'm sorry, but $10 million is pocket change. They are writing small checks - essentially angel funding, but the costs are high. One startup did a $250k deal for 60% equity. Ug! There are so many problems here its mind boggling.

First, the fund is so shallow (seriously, $10 million!?!) that if one of their investments takes off, they can't fund the success. It takes money to scale. Real money. The company has to go elsewhere. Secondly, the deals are so bad for the business that its going to be real hard to bring in other money with the valuations and dilutions at those numbers. Third, the fund doesn't have the human resources that the big funds have. Need a CFO or a COO? Good luck with these guys.

There are so many capital options at that level of money that I'm amazed that a deal like this ever happened. I hate to see deals like this because it send a bad message for the state of startups in our neck of the woods. There are some really nice funds here in the midwest and the east and west coast guys are looking for deals anywhere they can find 'em.

Dang, I would have written those guys a check for HALF of what they gave up. Bummer.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Side by side

Do you honestly think that the Dell engineers are proud of their little baby? Talk about fugly! Someone should buy them an iMac. Seriously.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Stability is death

Somewhere back in college I while I was working on autonomous robotics controlled by natural systems modeling, I coined the phrase, "stability is death". In my research I came to the realization that stable systems don't exist in the natural world, only in artificial worlds created by man. Stable systems tend to die off, sometimes they would go quietly into the night, and sometimes they'd go with a violent end that no one saw coming. Our environment is built on the idea that nothing is constant. Change can, will and does happen. Working to keep systems stable without change is a loosing battle every time.

Do you embrace change, or do you resist?

Do you promote change or just let it happen naturally?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Go team go!

Apple does a lot of things right. You could say they do it better than average, but that wouldn't be a good enough assessment. They KILL when it comes to cool.

Apple has a relatively small product announcement today - nothing really big, but a change nonetheless. There's been no marketing by Apple regarding yet the blogs are abuzz with the gossip, rumors and insider secrets.

Part of their success is accidental and the rest is manufactured. Their leg up on everyone else is the accidental part. Anyone can do the other, but it's this foundation of buzz, cool and customer (fan!) evangelism that sets Apple apart.

The online fan base gives Apple such buzz momentum, its amazing to watch. While the rest of the world tries to create this effect, Apple, in a bizarre turn of events, tries to squelch it. From a branding standpoint, they've not reached the peak, they soared past it. WAY past. They defined a new level of marketing and companies who can harness any part of this capability will stand out in their industry.

In the past 6 months or so, MailFoundry has reached the tipping point where customers online are generating buzz about the product on the discussion boards and we've got some talented fans out there who have developed apps that makes integrating MailFoundry into customers' networks easier. They didn't ask permission from us to do this, they just did it. And we're stoked.

What about your customer base? Would you classify them as "fans"?

They should be.

UPDATE : When I mentioned "relatively small" product update from Apple I meant relative to a large announcement like the iPhone.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The lull before the gust

For the past two months I've enjoyed a record amount of downtime. I've restricted my travel to just personal and have successfully avoided business travel for a record two months back to back for the first time in about four years.

This reprieve from business travel is about to come to an end and while I look forward to getting back in the saddle and hammering on business development, I'm going to spend my last week here with family, friends and lots of quality time on the water.

My first trip is to visit a new customer, finalize the relationship and announce it to the industry as the first of many big moves for MailFoundry this fall. Then I kick into trade show/sales mode and it looks like I'll be on the road every week until next May for Interop Las Vegas. A long run for sure, but I'm all charged up and ready to rock.

I really can't wait to get out, press the flesh and evangelize our story to those that I meet. I love meeting with current customers to see how they're using MailFoundry and their experiences with the platform. I want to know what they love about it, hate about it and where they want to see the product go in terms of its continued evolution.

In sailing, gusts of wind are usually preceded by lulls, and the larger the lull, the larger the gust will be behind it. Good sailors know how to read the wind and are prepared for the changes in speed and direction and they'll react without even thinking about it to maintain proper trim of both their craft and sails. I always look for gusts when I'm sailing because I'm usually already overpowered with a sail that's a tad too big for the conditions. I like being lit up when I'm sailing and that next gust might wipe me out, but it also might make the next jump even higher...

This downtime has set the stage for one heck of a 10 month gust for me.

I can't wait. Bring it on!

(got a few emails asking - yes that is me in the pic)

Friday, August 3, 2007

Protecting the Message

Here at MailFoundry the mantra is that we will "protect the message". In our world, the worst thing a spam filter can do is catch legitimate email as spam. So for us, Protecting the Message means that we'll deliver your email to your inbox on time, every time. When we look at adding new technology to the MailFoundry platform the number one priority is that we not increase the chance of a false positive. Period. The anti-spam industry has made email unreliable and our charter is to bring trust and continuity back to email.

When I saw this article about how a law firm had been fined as a result of its spam appliance (in this case, a Barracuda Networks box) loosing an emailed court notice, it further energizes me that what we're doing here and the success that we're having is a very important thing and we need to work even harder to tell our story to the world.

The technology in the Barracuda box is Spam Assassin. I'm a big fan of open source, but I think spam assassin sucks. Here's why : it has to examine each email and essentially 'guess' if the email is legitimate or not. Sure spam assassin can block a pile of spam, but the by product of its operation is an alarming number of false positives. Folks who have switched to us had rates of 1 in 150 to an amazing 1 in 30! This means that for every 30 emails you get, one will get incorrectly tagged as spam. The average email user receives 100 emails per day, so that means you would loose 3 valuable emails per day. And that's just for one user. Imagine a company of a few hundred people.

I applaud Dean and the crew at Barracuda for their business success in selling hardware with an open source software engine, but the problems of false positives are real and they have real world consequences in business.

Do you want to guess at your email? Neither do we. That's why we designed the MailFoundry engine from the ground up for ZERO false positives. I'll bet that law firm wishes they never bought that Barracuda box.

I'll get off my soapbox now but I just had to post on this. This kind of stuff drives us over here at MailFoundry and I hope you understand the passion behind our products.

I'm a luddite

When it comes to putting computational devices in certain things, I'm really a bit of a luddite. This is surprising to a lot of folks that know me and its always an interesting discussion when it comes up. But it goes further than just jamming computers into every day things - its about excessive electronics and engineering that increase complexity and in the process decrease uptime.

In planes that I fly, I'm all for GPS and other gizmos in the panel in front of me. What drives me nuts are the crappy user interfaces that are inherent in these devices. They are a real pain to use, not intuitive and quite honestly I believe that they keep the pilot's eyes glued to the panel instead of looking up and out from the aircraft. On the tarmac, I run across planes all the time that are "down" because of a failure in these expensive and complex flight displays that either keep the plane from operating or drop the plane to VFR flight only. When I see these sexy new planes come off the assembly line without standard analog instruments as a backup to the pretty displays in the cockpits I wonder what the pilot is going to do when (not if, but WHEN) the panel fails. The worst product I saw was a few years back that used Microsoft's Windows as its operating system ... you wouldn't catch me DEAD in a plane with that in the panel. It brings a whole new meaning to the 'blue screen of DEATH'. For all you avionics companies out there - go hire a decent interface design company. Better yet, hire the one that Apple uses.

In my world, having a single point of failure is a bad thing. (kinda like 'crossing the streams' in Ghostbusters.... it would be bad) Plane avionics need to be redundant and not cripple the vehicle in the event of a failure. I applaud Burt Rutan and the folks at Scaled in their cockpit design for SpaceShipOne. It was simple and reliable. They increased their safety by decreasing the complexity in the aircraft. There's a good design philosophy and lesson there.

For my sailboat, I've got a plan to essentially rip out all the problem causing issues (read : electronics) in the boat (starting with the BMW marine diesel) and in the process make the boat more reliable and get more sailing time out of it. The very fact that my SAILING time has been reduced because of an ENGINE problem is simply not acceptable for a sailboat. It makes me laugh when I see guys in their fishing boats with all these gadgets for catching fish. Can they catch fish without all that crap? (plus, its just a fish dude! How much technology do you need to catch a fish??)

In the house I just moved into, the realtor kept going on and on about the cool appliances that the seller had installed in the kitchen. It was the "best money could buy" and it was "really cool" and "right up my alley" since I'm in the tech industry, blah blah blah. Let me tell you, this KitchenAid microwave might have cost a small fortune, but its a total load of crap. It has a jog dial as its primary control. Sure that works for an iPod, but for a microwave?!! And I really don't get the "bookmark" function that it has. For popular things that I warm up, do I really need to bookmark the time I want to enter? I've tested it and it takes as many clicks and jogs of the wheel to access a bookmark as it does just to manually enter in the time to cook.(!) I'd like to find the engineers that made that device and shoot 'em. Honestly, I can't even do it justice describing it in the blog. Its THAT annoying. (perhaps I'll shoot some video of it in operation and post it later) I love to cook, and now I come up with any excuse imaginable to avoid using that appliance I detest it so.

If anyone wants a "super cool" microwave cheap, email me. ;-)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

WIFI is dead! Long live WIFI!

When I'm in my office, I'm connected via my Apple Airport Express on my desk so I can have my network access and stream music to my Xtreme Mac Tango that I won at a party at MacWorld 2007 last January. When I'm at home, I'm working off of another Airport Express. Fine. That's a good use for WIFI to give local wireless access to a local (private) network.

When I travel, I turn OFF my wireless and use my Sprint EVDO card exclusively.

With the travel that I do, hunting for a WIFI signal is a real pain in the butt. And these days, its easy to spoof an access point and sniff all sorts of goodie data from the ether. I'll bet after this coming weekend the hackers that will gather in Las Vegas for DEFCON will showcase more issues for us to worry about. ;-)

If you ever been to a trade show, conference, etc. you have experienced firsthand how WIFI simply falls apart when hordes of people are trying to access the network. At the last Web 2.0 conference, the wireless system was all but useless, and that was a bummer for the presenters like Adobe who couldn't showcase their wares without internet access.

note : I opted to get a dedicated card for my MacBookPro instead of using DUN off of my Treo 700p because I use my phone when I'm online and switching back and forth is a real pain. My only complaint is the pricing difference when the service is the same. (sigh)

With my EVDO card I have high speed internet access everywhere I go. No hunting for a WIFI signal, no daily WIFI charges and no worries about WIFI spoofing, etc. And when I say everywhere I go, I mean EVERYWHERE. On the beach in Maui, in a taxi in NYC, in the air train at SFO - I get 1.5mb down and 384k up. Essentially DSL speeds. I can do anything while on EVDO that I can do when I'm in my office. And that is a HUGE advantage when I'm mobile.

Of course EVDO isn't 100% coverage in the US, but for 90% of the places I travel to, I've got signal. When it's not EVDO it's 1rtt, which is about double the speed of dialup and the same speed as the wireless data for the iPhone.

Of course, Green Bay doesn't rate, so we don't have widespread EVDO here, only around Lambeau Field where Sprint has a small EVDO tower because of their contract with the NFL that requires them to have EVDO service at all NFL stadiums. If we did have EVDO here, I'd never turn my wireless on and bug Apple about making EVDO internal like 802.11.

Of course, WIFI is still decent for making a local network wireless for laptop roaming, but for traveling it really sucks.

The future isn't WIFI and the telco's know it. WIMAX and EVDO (3G) will rule the roost.

The business impact of this was interesting as I was about to roll out a city wide WIFI network for Green Bay ... and then I got my EVDO card. Serious users (like me) will have EVDO cards as we require high speed for our livelyhood. Casual users will stay on WIFIl, and keep dealing with the pains of WIFI because its free. If its a free service, you can't really complain and those users aren't a decent source of revenue, so I abandoned my WIFI plans.

Well, perhaps I put them on hold... it would still be an interesting social experiment. Though in most metro's, the WIFI networks take more hardware to roll them out (Google's little network in Mountain View) and they get less use than people thought they would. But I still have boxes and boxes of WIFI gear just waiting to be deployed....

Can you say "yes"?

The crucial decisions facing startups usually involve HR issues. The first few hires are especial crucial in how they either free up the principals to get more, high impact work done or handcuff them to the new hires and actually slow the business down.

My philosophy has always been to 'hire myself out of a job'. In the beginning I took at a look at all the jobs I was doing as a bootstrap startup and put a $ per hour price on each one. I tossed out the ones that didn't matter and looking at the ones that did, I created a few job positions to take over those tasks. My task list continued to shrink and float up to the highest dollar per hour jobs to the point where I wasn't involved in most day to day operations.

This created the opportunity for me to work ON my business instead of IN my business. I finally had time for strategic work but I could always inject myself into daily business operations as needed.

Key to this strategy is empowering ALL employees with the ability to say "yes" and also give them autonomous capabilities on an at will basis. In most companies, every can say "no", but very few can say "yes". Companies that harness this ability can out turn their competition and operate with fewer employees and thus greater profitability. My rule to employees is, "Go ahead and do what you have to do in order to get your job done. I'll tell you when you've gone too far or need guidance. In the meantime, just use your head. If I didn't trust your judgement, I wouldn't have hired you in the first place."

I travel a lot and when I'm out of the office things keep trucking as if nothing happened. Sure there are issues that need my attention, but things keep rocking and rolling regardless. Some might argue that they work better when I'm not there, and I have to admit I can't completely disagree with them. And that's a good thing. ;-)

What were to happen if we didn't work this way and I was unable to work as a result of an injury or worst case, death? Part of my responsibilities is to create an organization that continues to function without me. I have to admit that I've never read "Built to Last", but I'm certain this type of philosophy is in that book somewhere.

Are you surrounded by people who can say "yes"?

iTunes security problem

I stumbled across this while waiting for a flight in a Northwest Airlines lounge. I admit I was bored and starting poking around in people's shared iTunes libraries...

There's a privacy issue with iTunes that can be exploited with some simple social engineering that could be a real problem for folks with music sharing turned on.

When you share your music in iTunes, anyone can see your library and browse it. Nothing of real importance here, but if they attempt to play any songs that you have purchased from iTunes, their machine will be prompted to validate the DRM of the song they are trying to listen to. This shouldn't be a problem BUT iTunes fills in the account name tied to the DRM. This is your account name in the form of your email address - not good. Not good at all.

Aside from the privacy issues with iTunes divulging your email address, a thief can now spoof an email to the user, say from Apple, asking them to validate their music downloads or participate in a free offer from Apple. Since you can reference their valid apple account ID along with an actual list of songs purchased from the iTunes store WITH the date of purchase, who would think that the email isn't from Apple? After all, they know all sorts of things about you in the email.

With Apple's tight tie in to your credit card information, etc. someone could do some serious damage with this exploit for sure.

As you can imagine, I have my music sharing turned off. You should too.

Hey Steve, get the iTunes guys to fix this!

Death by community

Digg is dead. The signal to noise ratio flipped negative last year before the election and amazingly, it keeps getting worse. Today I've finally removed Digg from my "Daily" bookmark list and doubt I'll ever return.

I think many of these social network web 2.0 companies are battling the same issues with having their population drive content. (I'm talking home page content for general consumption, not personal content like facebook, etc.) I think wikipedia is doing the best job, but they've had to change how they do things to keep the signal to noise ratio in the positive. Its not that they wanted to make those changes; they had to. They'd be in the same boat as Digg had they not.

So many folks are gaming these websites its amazing and while some are trying to do something about it, the smart ones are figuring out how to monetize that to their advantage while keeping everyone happy. Those are companies I'd invest in. The ones that either do nothing or fight it to keep things a utopia will be road kill. Digg has slipped and lost its appeal to many - so what's going to take up the slack in the economy? Its not going to be anything like Digg that's for sure (sorry Netscape, you placed a bad bet with your Digg clone) and somewhat I think the bloggers (techcrunch, engaget, etc.) are providing some of the fill.

There's a lesson in Digg for all social network companies. The question is, do they get it or do they have to learn it firsthand?

(While I'm done with Digg, I'll still watch Diggnation. Those two just crack me up!)

The best things in life are free

I've lived my entire life on the water. Its part of my lifestyle and has shaped me in ways I still don't realize. As long as I'm not on the road for work, I get to view a killer sunset almost every night (depending on the weather). I can be in the middle of making dinner, working on my laptop, etc. and I can just sense that its time for sundown and I'll break away from whatever I'm doing to go check it out. Sometimes we even call down the road to neighbors for "sunset alert!" if its a REALLY good one.

Living on the water has everyone connected to not only the sunset, but also WHERE the sun sets throughout the year. I take special delight in the spring when the sunset breaks away from the shoreline to set over the water and the sun marks the heart of summer when it sets past the lighthouse that sits mid bay to the west of us.

There's something really special to be ON the water at sunset. The calm and serenity is really overwhelming and sometimes it can almost take your breath away. The water colors are amazing in contrast to the show in the sky and reflections in the clouds.

I often comment to friends and family at sunset that "the best things in life are free" and really, they are. You just have to take time to look around you and take it all in. No ticket or invitation needed. Just open your eyes.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

"Do you have an iPhone?"

I'm asked this all the time. (No, I don't have one) Being that I'm a big Apple fan (still have my old II+ somewhere) and we run the entire company on Mac's, everyone assumed that when the iPhone came out that I'd get one.

Here's the deal. I use a Mac because I want to get things done. Period. I don't want to waste time with a crappy OS, applications and hardware. Apple makes it easy. Plus we're UNIX developers and IMHO there's no better UNIX based workstations than an OSX machine. For me, the iPhone doesn't work. Here's why.

1) the Mail app totally blows. I live in email and this is a total deal killer for me.

2) the data service is slow. I'm on EVDO now (1.5mb down, 384k up) and there's no way I'm going to back to what amounts to dial up speeds for internet.

There's a third issue that I can rant about and that's the five year exclusive deal with AT&T. Honestly Steve, what were you thinking!? Its like rolling out a new computer that only works with AOL! ;-)

They have an EVDO iPhone in the works and I'm certain they'll fix the mail app, but until then I'll keep using my Treo. (700p, not the 680 pictured)

Just do it.

If you are thinking about starting a business - stop thinking. Do it.

What's the worst that can happen? You'll fail. In the process you'll learn more than you can ever learn in school about real world business operations. There's no better classroom than the real world. There's no substitute for the pressure of paying bills or meeting payroll. Most folks in college teach business because they can't DO business. If they could, they would be doing it, not talking about it.

I had an interesting conversation with a wanna-be business owner on Maui last week (she was from Austin) who was spending a pile of time and money researching how to start, run, manage, etc. a new business.

I'd estimate that on her current track, she's already spent almost a year's worth of time and around $10,000 of out of cash money in her "research". And she's not done yet! Her goal is to go to law school to get her "training" and then once she's finished she'll work on actually starting a business.

She was shocked when I told her that she's already failed.

She needs to Just Do It.

So do you.


I'm the founder and CEO of MailFoundry. We're the disruptive guys in the email security space (aka anti-spam). We provide email filtering appliances and solutions for millions of email users around the globe and we do it better and for less than anyone else. (and we're damn proud of it I might add)

What's super cool about what we do is the technology that we use (email scan engine) is our own. We engineered it, we coded it and we maintain the spam profiles that are updated every five minutes to keep our customers safe from spam, viruses, phishing attacks and the like. In the industry, we're one of the few companies that have our own technology. And we don't use ANY "spam assassin" technology in our solution. (I'll go into more about that later) The result of our investment into our scan engine (we call it MessageIQ) is that we kill more spam than anyone else while NOT killing your real email by mistake. (this is called a false positive)

See, killing spam isn't difficult. It's NOT killing legitimate email that's hard. The high rate of false positives are the dirty little secret of the anti-spam industry. We see that today's users are spending more time checking their quarantine or spam folders for lost email than the time they'd spend just deleting incoming spam. That's how bad the problem has become! We knew there was a better way to clean email and still protect the message.

So we built it. Sounds simple, but its not. The proof is that no other active anti-spam solution can come anywhere near our performance, let alone come near our price. In fact, I'm surprised at just how much enterprise customers are paying for anti-spam from the "big guys" and the solution really doesn't work that well. Simply amazing.

Getting back to my comment about spam assassin ; we don't use it or anything like it in our email filtering engine. Why? Its simple. That technology "guesses" at spam and causes a TON of false positives. Not to mention that it's super slow at message scanning. We won't let anything like that on our platform.

We're kinda an odd company because we're not based in Silicon Valley. We're in Green Bay. Right smack dab in the middle of the country. Silicon Valley? More like the Silicon Tundra! Of course we're all Packers fans - they're also a customer (of course). We're proud to be doing this level of software/hardware development in Wisconsin and I'm bullish on people building high tech companies in the state. (more on that in future posts)

In addition to our software engineering that's done here in Green Bay, we do all of our customer support here as well. We get comments from customers who are thrilled to talk to someone that 1) speaks english as a first language and 2) has a real interest in solving their problem, regardless of what it is. Our support guys and gals rock, no doubt!

Every day we bring new customers to our platform and I'd share that our growth is always based on our performance. When a potential customer compares us to anything else out there, MailFoundry really shines. We relish the head to head test because we know we'll kick butt. We're not arrogant, we're confident. We're confident in our technology, our hardware platform, our sales staff, our support staff and our engineering staff is second to none.

At the end of the day, I always check to see the locations we ship to and what units went where. I'm thrilled to see the places we're shipping MailFoundry appliances to and its great to hear back from customers who are amazed at the performance of the product in an industry that makes bold claims but doesn't live up to the hype. (more on that later too!)

First post

Hey folks, welcome to my blog. ;-)

Yeah yeah, its about time I got this thing going, I know. At any rate, better late than never .

This is actually a test post, so I'm not planning to write anything of substance until the next posting, so please bear with me.