Startups from Disrupt

At Wired.com Ryan Singel and Mike Isaac posted a list called “The 7 Coolest Startups You Haven’t Heard of Yet,” which has a title that pretty much explains it all.  These new startups in the list were all presented at this year’s TechCrunch’s Disrupt Conference in San Fransico.  Out of that list two really stuck out to me:

Trello – Trello is a simple, powerful and free tool for team collaboration from well-known programmer/entrepreneur Joel Spolsky at Fog Creek Software. Projects are broken down into “cards”, which can be assigned to team members, with to-do lists on each.

Team members can see the entire board, keeping an eye on who is working on what, and what the progress of the project is. It’s akin to Basecamp and Pivotal Tracker, both online services popular with software teams, but Trello’s intended to be useful for all sorts of project management, from class projects to running a company. Expect this to be widely popular as its free features are hard to pass up and premium features are expected in the future.

I remember during school working on projects using a number of different programs of tools to colaberate with team members, Google Docs, wiki spaces, and email of course.  Despite having teams with great communication abilities, determination, and general know how our work on projects could often get confusing.  Who is doing what, is this updated, has this been finished, and other questions could require some effert to answer.   Having a free service which gives users basic project management functions could be helpfull in so many areas, and while I haven’t used Trello I am going to spend some time to experiment with it.

CakeHealth – Insurance companies want to screw you, plain and simple. Documentation is intentionally convoluted, deductibles and out of pocket maximums are difficult to keep track of.

CakeHealth aims to cut through the confusion of dealing with health care. Enter your provider and personal enrollment information, and the service acts as a financial planner that keeps track of your activity throughout the year. From warnings on potential billing errors to knowing exactly how much you’ve paid into meeting your deductible, it’s a clear dashboard amid confusing noise.

There’s an added bonus for mobile users — forgetting your insurance card at home is no longer an issue. With the iPhone app, you’ll never leave home without it.

For me dealing with my insurance company and doctor’s office to resolve issues could never get too easy.  So anything that can consolidate information, digitize my insurance information, and show me potential problems will get on my radar.

Creating Rituals

Ritualize practice. Will and discipline are wildly overrated. As the researcher Roy Baumeister has found, none of us have very much of it. The best way to insure you’ll take on difficult tasks is to ritualize them–build specific, inviolable times at which you do them, so that over time you do them without having to squander energy thinking about them.

A post Tony Schwartz at FastCompany.com circled around the idea of determination and creating excellence within yourself.  Schwartz asserted that excelling at a skill isn’t something that we are simply born with, but instead put the weight of research behind the adage “practice makes perfect.”

His list entitled the “Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything” are:

  1. Pursue what you love.
  2. Do the hardest work first.
  3. Practice intensely.
  4. Seek expert feedback, in intermittent doses.
  5. Take regular renewal breaks.
  6. Ritualized practice

Schwartz provides some explanation and support for each of the points in his post that are worth reading, and while some or all of it may appear as common sense its helpful to find it written out like this.

Out of all the points listed the last one is the one I thought about the most.  I know that once you get in the habit of something it becomes easier to do, in the sense that it becomes easier to motivate yourself to do it.  For me that is getting in the habit of regular visits to the gym, daily visits in fact.  Once I start going everyday it becomes a habit, and I don’t even think about it.  I just go.  Personally this becomes a cycle, one I have fallen out of a few times.

Schwartz writes in another post on the HBR Blog Network, called The Skill That Matters Most, about building our self control as a skill.  Developing that skill is one way that we can increase our determination, giving us the willpower to do or stop doing the things we know we should or shouldn’t.  Once we build a ritual, or a routine, around something it makes it easier for us to will ourselves to do it by making it easier to maintain our determination.

Ironically part of how we build this skill is by creating a healthy lifestyle, like visiting the gym, because getting to that stage requires energy.  It is easier to will ourselves to do something when we are at peak levels because all of this determination and self control depletes our energy reserves.  Maintaining our energy reserves obviously has an impact on our ability to contribute, but it also impacts our ability to will ourselves to do things.

TechStars

 

A post at TechCrunch yesterday sparked my interest in a new documentary “reality TV” show, which premiered last night on Bloomberg TV, about a group called TechStars.  I had only briefly heard of the organization before, which is best described by their own words:

TechStars is the #1 startup accelerator in the world.  We’re very selective – Although thousands of companies apply each year, we only take about ten companies per program. We have selection rates lower than the Ivy League, so you have to be among the best of the best to be in TechStars.

The show, which will give viewers an inside look on the TechStars process of mentoring 10 startups from the “class of 2011,”  could be worth watching for numerous reasons.  First, it could give me an inside look to the types of ideas that could be emerging in technology and cloud computing in the coming years.  Secondly, and of a bigger interest to me, it could provide a better view of how startups like these need to refine their ideas, present to investors, and work with different companies to support them.  

I haven’t been able to watch the premier episode yet, or the trailer, so I could be wrong about the show.  What I do know is that I have had family set my home DVR to record the show, and I will need to sit down and watch it when I get back.  Hopefully, my predictions of the shows content are correct and there will be something valuable and insight recorded back home.  In my mind that is a rarity with reality TV.

 

 

TechStars – Top Minds In Tech from Elizabeth Gould on Vimeo.

What We Eat

From Visual Economics

This info-graphic from Visual Economics caught my interest, and caused me to compare it to my own diet.  After some thought I could easily tell some things are out of proportion with my personal intake, strikingly so if you spend 3 months in India.  I often think of how much my diet has changed from being back home and how much, and why that is.  There is definitely less meat, as most days are purely veg, along with less dairy, fruits, and soda in my diet.  Some things I expected, like less meat, but less fruit surprised me when I got here.  That isn’t to say it is available, but it isn’t part of my normal meals.

The most interesting application of something like this is thinking about how things add up over the course of a year, much like how Mint.com summarizes my spending habits over time.  In my case both exercises have told me I most likely spend to much time at local diners back in Milwaukee.

Drive to Innovate

I agree with the notion that to make your mark you need to not only do your job or run your business well, you need to innovate.  I happened to read an article at FastCompany.com yesterday that reinforced the idea called, “Thomas Friedman To United States: Innovate Or Else.”  One of the quotes that stuck out to me was:

Nor is innovation confined to the private sector. “The army’s on to all of this,” says Friedman, “their lives depend on it.” In an eye-opening interview, America’s top armed forces official, the future Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Martin Dempsey, tells Friedman that the need to innovate is eroding the hallmark of the military: hierarchy. In the past, “we would have said we want men who are physically fit, educated, and disciplined. Now, what we way is that we want someone who wants to belong to a values-based group, who can communicate, who is inquisitive, and who has an instinct to collaborate.”

I may have to pick up a copy of this when I get back to the states, but in the meantime I actually checked out a copy of Successful Innovation, by Michel Syrett and Jean Lammiman, from the library at my office park.  So far it seems to be making the case that companies need to innovate to stay competitive.  Specifically to quote the back cover:

Successful Innovation is crucial to a business’s competitive edge, even its survival, but study after study reveals that many organizations are failing to tap the potential of their staff.

The quick one sentence summary on the cover seems to agree with Freidman’s point above, but the book was written 10 years ago.  I don’t think that these writers viewpoints have gone unheard, I believe almost everyone understands the need for innovative ideas and people; however, I think people fall into the trap that Nilofer Merchant writes about in her post on the HBR Blog Network.  She writes that people are often afraid to speak up and put forth the ideas that need to be said, the ones that are sometimes obvious and right in front of us but never get shared.  The difficulty is the same many teachers face in the classroom, how to get those students/members of your group to speak up and contribute.  To get over the fear of being wrong.  So I will end this post with the words she wrote to motivate us.

The silence needs to be broken. And perhaps risking being the fool is necessary to move forward. Underlying all that is courage — Courage to speak, courage to risk, courage to step forward rather than sit quietly. Courage to break the silence and when you do, the blind will see, the different viewpoints will be heard, and we can reduce suck-ness where we work.

Could it be….you’re ready to speak up?

Modular, Modern, and Container Homes

For several years now I have been a big fan of modular modern homes, and then when container homes began to grow in popularity I found I liked them too.  I never know if I will own one, but the industrial aesthetic appeals to me.  So finding that one of my favorite producers of modular homes, Hive Modular, is also designing container homes like the one bellow:

While I don’t find this particular building to be the best container home/cabin I have ever seen it definitely fulfills the criteria it was designed to.  Simple and functional.  While simplicity finds a place in my ‘good design’ criteria, I have some high hopes from this firm to post some more pictures of completed projects that will really wow me.  Surprisingly a container house that has done that, while remaining simple in concept, was found in a movie.  Tron: Legacy in fact.  Bellow is a picture of Sam Flynn’s house in the movie.

My favorite container home so far

Despite knowing it is a movie prop and was designed to look like it hadn’t been, I like the unchanged exterior of the containers and simple creation of open space in the home inspire me.  Perhaps it could be the base of future designs to actually be built.  Checking out a list of container homes at ContainerBay I found some that were similar, like this one by Adam Kalkin, called the Quick House:

On a more sophisticated note I found this house bellow on another WordPress blog.  The post by Jody Forehand, titled Ship Me a Building: Used Shipping Containers as Architecture lead off with the house bellow.  While there were little details on the project it points to a more creative use of shipping containers.

Jody’s post is worth a read for its short synopsis of various container projects, not all of which are homes.

I also liked  Jetson Green’s 15 Shipping Container Projects of 2010.  The post covers some of the smaller and more affordable projects.  These ideas could make an impact in both urban areas as well as those recently struck by disaster, but the post also happens to mention a container building in my home town of Milwaukee.

Looking for Work?

As a recent MBA graduate, who is about to finish an internship in India, I am looking for work.  To be more specific a place to start a new career.   In about a month I will be boarding a plane for the trip back to Milwaukee in a month with no guaranteed job waiting for me when I get there.  So like many who are “jobless” the economic and employment situation in the US causes me to fret more than is probably healthy, and paying attention to the news daily probably doesn’t help.  I feel I should keep myself somewhat informed though, because while here in India though I actually field a great deal of questions about the situation back in the US, and I want to be able to answer them.  So stopping by the Wall Street Journal’s website I happened to read a post where multiple economists reacted to the latest job report, needless to say it  didn’t really fill me with good emotions.

Then after reading numerous posts about the hollowing out of the middle-class, which I don’t personally feel will be as drastic in the short term as others feel, I saw this headline, “Study: Unemployed Spend Only 1% of Time Looking for Work.”  After reading that a soothing calm swept over me, why?  Well the reason I didn’t post over the weekend is because I spent the vast majority of my time searching for jobs, writing cover letters for the ones I found that I liked, and before submitting them doing my research.  So to skip a lot of other comments I could make about that, if I keep my dedication up, continue to research the companies I would like to work for, and set aside time I am sure I can beat the odds.

It’s back to Starbucks, thanks to the CEO

My first taste of caffeinated goodness from Starbucks came in New Haven, Conn.  while tagging along with other high schoolers.  We were are all part of a few week long summer program taking place at a well known institution there, and were following the suggestion of others that we may find more than coffee across the street from the quad.  We were hoping to catch a glimpse of a fast, furious, and way out of our league movie star enrolled in that same institution; however, we never saw her, but I was quickly hooked to Starbucks.  My allegiance changed in the years to come, to lesser know but cheaper sources during my poor undergrad years.  Then to the more fair-trade local variety call Alterra during my grad-school days, and now to whatever I can find here in India – I haven’t seen a Starbucks yet despite their partnership with my current employer.  When I get home however it will be time for at least one cup of Starbucks brewed goodness thanks to Howard Schultz, the Starbucks CEO.

About two weeks ago I stumbled upon an article on CNNMoney called, “Starbucks CEO to DC: You’ve been cut off.”  Schultz, prompted by the debt crisis and political fighting surround it, decided to stop his contributions to political campaigns, a total of $183,650.  It was a decision that made sense to me, and while I am able to contribute no where near what Schultz has I could definitely follow suit.  Schultz decided that until politicians can act together, especially on issues that have a large impact like the debt crisis, he would stop supporting them.  After posting the article on my Facebook and Tweeting it I didn’t give that much more thought, but then I found myself engaged in a conversation with coworkers here in India about what is going on in the US.  They were equally as concerned/upset with things as I was because it has a direct effect on their lives.  So I did some more reading and noticed Schultz’s movement has gained some traction.  Not only have other CEOs from companies like NASDAQ and AOL joined in, but others have also written with further suggestions.  Then at the Seattle Times I found that a group on Facebook had started in reaction to Schultz’s letter and new website.

Blair Taylor, CEO of the Los Angeles Urban League, recommends asking for “5 million Americans of every hue, economic background, political persuasion or geographical location, to sign a ‘no giving’ pledge as well.”

With quotes like Taylor’s above it is apparent that more business leaders are joining Schultz’s movement, now called Upward Spiral 2011, and offering their suggestions.  If any of this sounds interesting to you, or if you would like to read some of Schultz’s letters or so what people are saying visit the Facebook group or the Upward Spiral 2011 homepage.  I can’t predict what impact this will have, but on principle I can agree with trying to get people to work together and not against each other.

“This is a time for citizenship not partisanship.  It Is a time for action.”

-Howard Schultz

Lessons on the Little Things

 

Logging onto LinkedIn a few days ago I was greeted with a trending story on Microsoft’s work to change the copy, move, and rename functions in Windows 8, linking to the MSDN blog.  Reading through it reminded me of a few things, particularly how oblivious I can be sometimes to the small repetitious actions I do during the day – like copy/paste of files.  Now I don’t feel that these functions in Windows were hindering my work or personal life, but instead I thought the idea could apply to other parts of my life.  While reading through the post and Microsoft’s process I thought what if I look into the small things, examining the process and improving it could have drastic impacts on the quality of my work.  We won’t all access to millions of computers to draw test data from, but I imagine that I can find a few things which could use improvement if I just think about it.  I just need to remember that the small things can have a big impact.

Also looking forwards to seeing how much of an improvement these changes will make when I finally upgrade to Windows 8.  Considering I just put 7 on all my computers, and my work still is using XP, this could be a while – not to mention it isn’t released yet.  You can follow the blog here, and clicking on the picture above will take you to the video on their process.

 

IBM is Up in the Clouds

 

A post over at Engadget yesterday focused on some new tech in the pipeline from IBM, particularly a large storage array with 120 petabytes of capacity, a petabyte being 1 million gigabytes, or 1 thousand terabytes.  Which gives this array enough space to store “24 billion average sized MP3s,” enough music to occupy you auditory senses for 1.2 billion hours (assuming that each song was only 3 minutes long and not something more like the 8 minutes of Stairway to Heaven).  As that is more music then you and your 1,000 closest friends could hope to listen to in a lifetime this tech must have a much different purpose.  As cloud computing is become more and more common demand will go higher and higher for storage centers with the ability to not only hold vast amounts of data but also be able to process it at ever-increasing speeds.  I am interested to see the type of developments, everything from software to peripherals, that will be coming out in the next few years to take advantage of the growing cloud.  My hope being that one day any computer I log onto will be exactly the same as mine at home, or will it be that my computer at home is the same as the one at the cafe?  Either way I think it isn’t that far off, so it is time for you and me to come up with some way to provide some unique services in this space.