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January 25 2013

Why we spun out Maker Media

Today, O’Reilly Media announced that we have spun out Maker Media into a separate company. I want to give a bit of background on why we did this, and what we think the opportunity is for the new Maker Media company.

The arc from enthusiast to entrepreneur

Many of the most interesting technologies of the next decade will involve innovations in hardware, not just software. The Maker movement, like all enthusiast movements, is a harbinger of deeper change.

What Dale Dougherty first recognized in 2005 when he published Make: Magazine and began Maker Faire was that there was a new upwelling of interest in making things, embracing everything from new technologies like 3D printing and other forms of advanced manufacturing, robotics, sensor platforms, to crafting and older hands-on technologies. The early projects in the magazine — aerial photography with kites, a programmable cat feeder made out of an old VCR, hacked robot dogs sniffing out environmental toxins — may have seemed trivial at the time, but they were a sign of things to come.

In 2005, Jeff Han’s work with multitouch interfaces was a maker project at NYU. In February 2006, when he demoed his work at TED, it was a WOW moment. A year and a half later, with the release of the iPhone, the multitouch screen was the foundation of a transformative consumer product.

Multitouch was just the beginning. Smart phones are sensor platforms: GPS, compass, accelerometer, camera, microphone, and dozens more specialized sensors create new possibilities for application design that are only now being exploited more fully. Applications like Square Wallet and Uber are only possible because of these platforms.

The problem is that, as has often been said about AI as well, as soon as something crosses over into the consumer realm, it’s no longer seen as “makerish.” When Nike is selling quantified self devices, when your bathroom scale tweets your weight, it’s hard to see this as part of the Maker movement. Yet thinking about how much further we have to go in applying sensors to transform applications and business processes will help you see important opportunities that you might otherwise miss.

A sensor and control platform like Arduino still seems to belong to the Maker universe, but an application that uses the consumer sensor platform of a smart phone does not. But this is the very heart of the distinction that will help you to see the future more clearly.

To understand the trend line of the Maker movement, ask yourself “What are makers playing with today that has already become mainstream? What other kinds of devices and business processes can be transformed by the additions of sensors? What are the opportunities here for startups?”

When you ask yourself these questions, and then look around, you will realize that the Maker movement is the next big thing.

As a result, we decided it was time to create Maker Media as a standalone vehicle to ride this new wave of innovation. Dale Dougherty, my partner from the early days of O’Reilly, and the creator of both Make magazine and Maker Faire, was the one who recognized this wave coming, and has nurtured it for the last seven years. Now, he has a platform to continue his work and take it to the next level.

Below, a few thoughts from Dale about the origins of Make, and where he wants to take Maker Media.


Making becomes popular

Thoughts from Dale Dougherty

I first mentioned the idea for MAKE Magazine to Tim in a cab in Portland. We were heading to the Open Source Conference and I had a few minutes to pitch him on a magazine that I said would be “Martha Stewart for Geeks.”  We had a good conversation, talking about how hackers were hacking the physical world, applying a mindset learned from developing software to customize, personalize and create physical environments. Tim’s encouragement was the initial step in developing what would become MAKE Magazine. I certainly had no idea that many years later we’d be talking about a global Maker movement. Indeed, what has happened is simultaneously that making and the geeks behind it have broken into the mainstream. Making is now popular.

From the beginning, I was fascinated by makers. I enjoyed meeting makers, getting to know their stories, and seeing firsthand the amazing projects they were doing. I realized that makers would enjoy meeting each other and talking about their projects, sharing the kinds of details that they were able to share with me. That was the inspiration for Maker Faire, and I wondered at the time if other people would find makers as fascinating as I did. Maker Faire was really an experiment to find out. A team headed by Sherry Huss organized the first Maker Faire in the Bay Area, and we chose to hold it at a fairgrounds/expo center. We wanted Maker Faire to be fun and we wanted families to come. We re-invented the fair. In 2012, there were over 60 Maker Faires around the world, most of them organized by community-minded individuals who wanted to support and promote making in their city or region.

While MAKE started out with geek hobbyists, the audience now includes families who look for fun, educational projects to do together. It also includes makers who are developing new products and services for other makers and other audiences. It includes professional engineers and industrial designers. Makers have become entrepreneurs, sometimes accidentally, by discovering there’s a market for what they do. They build components and kits, and we sell them in Maker Shed, and many other places. They create tools such as 3D printers and CNC machines and microcontrollers. Makers have created a new market ecosystem.

MIT economist Michael Schrage, who wrote an article for MAKE’s Kits issue on kits as an engine of innovation, has a new book called Who Do You Want Your Customers To Become?*  He writes that the best innovation transforms your customers. It engages them in “reimagining, redefining, and redesigning” their future. The mission of Maker Media is to help more people become makers, and participate broadly in making a better future for themselves, their families and their communities.

I’m excited by the opportunity for Maker Media and its team. I’m grateful to Tim, Laura Baldwin, my colleagues at O’Reilly and the extended O’Reilly community for supporting the growth of MAKE. I look forward to developing this new edition of MAKE, and expanding the reach of MAKE as a global brand that brings makers together.

* (Schrage, Michael (2012-07-17). Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become? (Kindle Location 57). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.)

April 13 2012

Four short links: 13 April 2012

  1. Change the Game (Video) -- Amy Hoy's talk from Webstock '12, on being contrary and being successful. Was one of the standout talks for me.
  2. Rise4Fun -- software engineering tools from Microsoft Research. (via Hacker News)
  3. Why Obama's JOBS Act Couldn't Suck Worse (Rolling Stone) -- get ready for an avalanche of shareholder suits ten years from now, since post-factum civil litigation will be the only real regulation of the startup market.
  4. Socio-economic Return Of FTTH Investment in Sweden (PDF) -- This preliminary study analyses the socio-economic impacts of the investment in FTTH. The goal of the study was: Is it possible to calculate how much a krona (SEK) invested in fibre will give back to society? The conclusion is that a more comprehensive statistical data and more calculations are needed to give an exact estimate. The study, however, provides an indication that 1 SEK invested over four years brings back a minimum of 1.5 SEK in five years time. The study estimates the need for investment to achieve 100% fibre penetration, identifies and quantifies a number of significant effects of fibre deployment, and then calculates the return on investment. (via Donald Clark)

December 12 2011

An angel who bets on women-led companies

Blogger, mother, foodie, and hardcore New Yorker Joanne Wilson (@TheGothamGal) is one of a few female angel investors. Her approach to investing is unabashedly women-centric. And as she explains in the following interview, she's a believer in the power of the startup ecosystem to influence the economies of New York and beyond.

What inspired you to move into the venture capital (VC) space?

Joanne Wilson: I call myself an angel rather than a VC because I'm doing this by myself. And I am a woman doing this by myself in this space, which I know is not the norm.

I've been involved in startup businesses throughout my whole life, and I had gotten off the train for a while. Being home with my kids, I started blogging in order to stay connected to the Internet industry and not lose my credibility. That was eight years ago.

I was closely watching all of the new companies in the space we began to call Web 2.0. One of them was Curbed, and I heard they were looking for funding. I was at a point in my life where I realized I was ready to do something, and I felt like I could add value there. So, I called Curbed founder Lockhart Steele and said I'd be very interested in funding his company. After that, the cat was out of the bag. Everyone came running in the door.

In the beginning, I was thinking of funding one, maybe two startups. But, as my husband [VC Fred Wilson] says, "Your problem is that you wouldn't want one lemonade stand; you'd want 1,000 of them."

What's the difference between an angel and a venture capitalist?

Joanne Wilson: There are three rounds as a company begins. The first is seed, where you have a wonderful idea and need to get things rolling. For that, you go to your family and friends. Then, as the idea gains traction — you build a website, a community, and realize you could really grow it — that's when angels like me come in. I invest in the round after seed, helping it get to the third round.

VCs are in the business of growing businesses. They bring in seasoned players with a different kind of skill set. A VC will be with a company through many iterations of investments. Angels, on the other hand, usually leave the space once the VCs get in. Angels become more of a friend and a consiglieri to the entrepreneur at that point.

Is an angel someone who gives as much advice as money?

Joanne Wilson: No. I'm not normal in that respect. I get really involved in these businesses. It's not like I call them, but if they want to call me every day, I am happy to answer any questions. If I don't know the answer, I'll find it out for them. I open up my Rolodex and think about the big picture. I'm pretty accessible, and I want them to reach out to me.

You called yourself a "chick magnet" at Web 2.0 Expo. Do you think your accessibility is one of the main reasons why women founders seek you out? How do you get "found"?

Joanne Wilson at Web 2.0 Expo 2011
Joanne Wilson (left) judging the Startup Showcase at Web 2.0 Expo NY 2011.

Joanne Wilson: One of the topics that I always come back to in my blog has to do with being a woman and how you can do it all, just not all at the same time, and the frustrations of balancing life and family. I think that topic resonates with a lot of women out there. I also have put the majority of my investments into women-led companies. I'm a big believer, but this whole nonsensical thing of not enough women in tech, not enough women CEOs, not enough women on the board — guess what? If we invest in women entrepreneurs, we'd change the game because they're all CEOs. It's pretty easy to do.

I also put on a conference called the Women's Entrepreneur Festival with Nancy Hechinger, a professor at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program. Ten businesses were started at that conference, and many connections were made. This year, we'll have about six panels, five people on each panel and a moderator for each panel, highlighting "the makers" — community makers, taste makers, art makers. What's fascinating is that only one man has signed up to come.

Do you have any advice for angels or VCs looking to invest in women-driven startups?

Joanne Wilson: It's no different than the advice I give to kids who graduate and want to work in a startup or be an entrepreneur. There are meetups all over the city every single night. Eventually, you meet people and hear what's going on. It's a very open, embracing industry. There's a lot out there and there are a lot of bloggers writing about what's going on and about new businesses. If you can't find women-led businesses, then you're not reading the right things and you're not looking in the right spots.

I would love to see more people who have created wealth for themselves and their families take a chunk of their change and invest in women-led companies. It would be better for the economy. And, again, better for women. By the way, it's not always about women — companies should be mixed. Women bring something to the table and so do men. It's about the best ideas.

Any advice for new founders?

Joanne Wilson: For first-time entrepreneurs moving forward and going up for more money, remember to use the people you have. Engage them in your business.

Second, consider how big you want to be. You don't have to be a $1 billion business. For instance, Dave McClure is doing a really cool thing: funding 500 new startups. He's giving a lot of people an opportunity to be entrepreneurs, but they won't all be $1 billion market cap companies. You could have a nice $4-million-a-year lifestyle business in the local community, something you love to do every day. That is an amazing thing. You're making enough money to live your life and do good at the same time. Create economies, hire people, and maybe have a family. That's okay. You've got to think big picture, and you've got to think reality.

What are some of the notable companies you're involved with?

Joanne Wilson: There's a void in the market for businesses in the $50-$60 million range, where investors exit at the second round. These are not niche businesses — $50 million is significant. But, they're not $1 billion market caps. Many of the businesses that I'm involved in, women-led businesses, are at that level and going out for their VC round, which indicates that they're successful.

One of the biggest successes is Daily Worth, Amanda Steinberg's company. She has created tremendous traction and sells advertising at lightning speed, to the point that we don't have any inventory. She's done an amazing job. If she pivoted in one direction, she could be a huge, huge business.

I'm also in Catchafire. Founder Rachael Chong is about to launch a product that I think is going to change her business. That could be a massive business, surpassing $100 million.

I also just invested in littleBits. We have yet to see where that goes, but Ayah Bdeir has created a really interesting product. She was just acknowledged as a TED2012 Fellow.

Have social media or other technologies changed the way you make investment decisions?

Joanne Wilson: No. I invest in the entrepreneur, and then the business. I have to love what they're doing. Think about it like a house: when you buy a house, you can renovate it, but you can never change the location.

What do you think of some of the recent studies pointing to women-led startups tending to be more successful?

Joanne Wilson: Women say "we." Men say "I." That's both a positive and a hindrance. Women say, "What's my role here? How is this going to work for all of us? Am I doing as well as I think I should be doing?" Men don't think that way. If you ask five men and five women to be mentors, men say "Yeah, sure." Women say, "What's expected of me? How many hours do I have to put into it? Does this make sense for me?" It's different. Women run families.

Do you think the different vocabulary and thought process is part of what's hindering women founders from getting investments from mostly or all-male angels and VCs?

Joanne Wilson: No, I don't. I'm sure people would smack me for this, but going to back to the void in the marketplace for $50-$60 million businesses, I think that many VCs invest only in businesses that they hope are life changing — the $1 billion market cap.

If you look at many women-led businesses, they tend to invest in things that fill needs in their lives. The women who started ZipCar probably figured it would be great to walk outside and have a car waiting. The Apgar test and Scotchgard — these were invented by women. Fire escapes, Liquid Paper, windshield wipers, life rafts, cleaning tools for the home — all created by women. They create what they need, which, incidentally, adds up to a much bigger economy.

I would rather invest in 100 startups that will become $50 million companies and will change economies, that will change communities, that will change families. The long-tail of the Internet revolution is that there are no longer companies with one president, seven vice presidents, and then all of these different levels of people underneath them. It's over.

Is the economy changing investment trends?

Joanne Wilson: The greatest thing about our country is that the people see what's happening before the government. There's a wave of entrepreneurialism, of returning to our communities — whether it's the local grocery store or butcher, customers are having conversations with their local shopkeepers. There's something really powerful about that. It was something we had right a long time ago, and there's nothing wrong with going back to that model.

Who inspires you?

Joanne Wilson: Hillary Clinton rocks. What she has done, from being the wife of the president to where she sits now — I think she's an amazing, incredibly inspirational human being. My husband inspires me. He's fantastic at what he does. We've been partners since we were 19 years old, and we've created everything together.

In general, I'm pretty inspired by the entrepreneurs that I meet every single day. I feel incredibly lucky that I get to meet people whose synapses are going so fast I can barely keep up, who think about ways to change the way we live and to change the economy that we're in now, who think about the world at large and are figuring out how to make money, and who want to get things done quickly and efficiently. To have those conversations every day is pretty damn inspiring.

This interview was edited and condensed. Photo by Pinar Ozger.

Related:

December 01 2011

A young entrepreneur's perspective on Angolan innovation

Nyanga Tyitapeka (@kapetatyi) is the founder and director of Infonauta, Prestação de Serviços, an Angola-based startup company specializing in customer loyalty solutions. I met Tyitapeka at Strata New York last September and was struck by her background in energy and environmental analysis, political science, and economics.

The chance to hear about technology innovation in Africa from a personal perspective is rare, so I asked Tyitapeka to share her thoughts on the Angolan tech scene.

Give us the 10,000-foot view of the technology industry in Angola.

Nyanga Tyitapeka: Today, Angola is certainly not a bountiful country when it comes to tech goods and services. The industry is only just starting here — Angola is one of the last frontiers for big tech giants.

However, the industry is expanding at a fast pace, pervading societal interactions and becoming a source for change in the lives of many Angolans in a significant way. It will be extremely difficult for Angola to stay immune to the wave of technological development that has hit the rest of world in the last decade or so. There's a concerted effort by the government to lay down the regulatory foundations, and it's also investing in infrastructure that will allow for faster development. Fiber optic cables, for instance, are being installed, and we expect to have a telecom satellite by 2013.

Large tech companies have, in the past, adopted a wait-and-see approach toward the Angolan market, either opting to not come or to use middle-men; this scenario is definitely changing. Companies like Google, which held a conference in Luanda during the first week of November, have recognized that this moment is propitious for serious investment.

It's not surprising that telecommunications has benefited the most from tech innovations. For decades, civil conflict was a de facto bottleneck in the flow of information. Once peace came and the right conditions were set, it was as if a can of soda had burst open. Angolan telecommunication companies, with the help of Siemens and Portugal Telecom, along with business leaders (both men and women) who turned to Brazil, Dubai, the U.S., the UK, Portugal, and China as suppliers of mobile phones and computers, all moved fast to respond to the demand of the market for telecommunication goods and services. The number of newly installed landlines dwindled, pay phones never took off, desktops are mostly confined to the office setting — yet communication soared.

What are the biggest challenges facing Angola today?

Nyanga Tyitapeka: Low levels of literacy, in general. There is not enough brain power devoted to the tech industry and, consequently, there is little to no production capacity. Development issues are the biggest problems for Angola and for a significant number of countries on this continent. There are other challenges, but those are minor in the face of basic needs. Literacy is obviously a prerequisite to achieving reasonable tech-literacy.

Where are the biggest opportunities?

Nyanga Tyitapeka: Like in many other African countries, Angola will soon experience vertiginous growth in mobile tech applications. Mobile platforms and the introduction of GSM, coupled with some interesting payment options, have allowed a war-torn country to bypass huge infrastructure investments. Here, both individuals and businesses rely heavily on USB modems to browse the Internet and on cell phones to stay in touch. An Angolan with a bank account can conveniently check her account balance by sending an SMS, bypassing traffic and long queues at the bank.

Some predict that in the next few years, services like buying a movie ticket, downloading an MP3 file, or using a vending machine in Africa will not require cash nor a credit/debit card, just a cell phone. Cell phones as wallets work well because while an illiterate person may not know how to read and write, she can count and use numbers. Therefore, she can learn how to send an SMS, so long as the message is a number. The possibilities are endless — think about it. When a business can receive mobile payments from a customer, everybody wins: the business's bank, the customer's bank, the telephone services provider, the business, and the client.

What is fascinating about Angola and sub-Saharan countries in general is that they compensate for weak infrastructure and overcome major obstacles by embracing solutions that are nearly grid-free and simple to use.

There's also plenty of room for growth for some device makers who want to establish a presence in the region. Angola, in particular, imports virtually all of the tech devices it uses. Creating regional industrial subsidiaries would greatly cut down the price of imported devices, which sell well here, in spite of the fact that they are extremely expensive due to low supply.

You founded your own company recently — how would you characterize the startup environment in Angola?

Nyanga Tyitapeka: The startup environment is heavily skewed toward restaurants, beauty parlors, corner stores, and small fashion boutiques. Angolans are known in the international business community as entrepreneurial; however, the success rate of startups is still very low. Starting up a business is relatively easy and cheap. I did it in one month's time. However, maintaining it is a whole different game. Some 60% of businesses fail within the first year. You want to start out as lean as possible, say by running a home office by yourself. But working from home is often looked down upon, and working alone can be extremely hard — running administrative errands around town with heavy traffic and without the support of an assistant is a nightmare here.

More troubling for the startup environment than dodging heavy traffic, avoiding high rents, and overcoming cultural barriers is the small pool of enthusiastic people who are OK forfeiting a salary in order to join a startup.

Are you working on any new projects?

Nyanga Tyitapeka: I am currently building Infograficus. It's a hobby platform and a place for Angolans who want to start using the data I've been tracking to make their lives a little easier.

I've started playing with the data I've collected to get some visuals, mostly mapping how prices of the same product vary in different areas of the city. I am also interested in using the information to visualize the economic geography of street vending and to understand the civil response capacity to an emergency situation. It is one way I can help people who face the same problems I face on a daily basis.

Is big data having an impact on the work you do? Where else are you seeing its influence?

Nyanga Tyitapeka: I am not aware of how companies and governmental agencies are harnessing the power of big data, but it is out there, especially in the energy, financial, telecommunications, retail, travel, and public and health sectors. The truth is that Angola is at a stage of the evolutionary process where data itself is a product. Companies and government institutions are, knowingly or not, collecting loads and loads of data.

Data is a natural resource that can assume many forms — from cash transactions to video footage in a store. I call it a natural resource because it is a byproduct generated almost automatically in every business transaction. My hope is that aside from just storing data and running the risk of losing it, economic agents will start looking for companies like mine to figure out what to do with data they already have: how to get better data, how to analyze the data by asking the right questions, and how to turn data into actionable information and a competitive advantage.

This interview was edited and condensed.

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