Technology

17Feb

Women 2.0 Conference 2012: For the Men who Missed it- taken from my writing for Techzulu.com

Just like the sky scraping investment banks of Wall Street, the technology industry tends to be a sausage party. A Silicon Valley conference is a room full of suits, with the occasional skirt suite. So when I heard about Women 2.0 pitch and technology competition at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA, I couldn’t help but feel like it might be a hall of crickets with a few passionate women warming the front row. I was overwhelmingly mistaken.

A 50 car line stacked up the street from the conference entrance filled with women idling, applying mascara, brushing their hair, and finishing early morning conference calls. I had planned to get there early to attend Flickr and Hunch co-founder, Caterina Fake’s morning keynote at 9:20 am. But after the lady car queue and a filled parking lot, I managed to screech in for the second keynote by Zipcar and Buzzcar co-founder, Robin Chase (we had some seriously ambitious females speaking, many with multiple successes under their belts).

The room was flooded. Seats filled to capacity, walls colorful with leaners and not a space on the floor to decipher the carpet pattern; all in laughter as they listened to Chase’s tales from the front lines of Zipcar‘s early days. She was walking us through the first few months of inception, about 4 months into the project, with just one beta car that sat outside her house for people to come and grab using keys she had hidden on her porch. Explaining that customers were

able to sign up online and rent the car, with only $50,000 invested in the company, which went towards the website, database and beta car. The audience listened in anticipation, as Robin explained how she was 3 days before launch with $63 left only to find out that to rent 3 more cars for launch she needed $21,000 in deposit money. It so happened that just that day she had ran into an old friend who had asked her why she looked so stressed. “I need $25,000 by tomorrow morning or we can’t launch!” Within the next 8 hours he had wired her the money, as the story goes, sending the perfumed crowd of Women 2.0 into wild applause.

Chase had many tidbits of information for the room of lady innovators from “every single person is your free consultant” to “make sure you are an ‘I can make that person’ versus ‘I can buy that person’ if you want to be an entrepreneur.” Before Robin Chase left the stage, she left the delighted crowd with one great piece of advice that we often forget as women, fight for your rights, “being private and founder owned is not negative,” pointing us to Rose Industry’s female founder holding a $2 billion private company.

Next up, came a round of female startup pitches to be judged by female partner at KPCB, Aileen Lee, angel investor, Christina Brodbeck, the charismatic, talkative and often controversial, Dave McClure of 500 Startups, as well as managing partner of AngelPad, Thomas Korte, and DFJ investment professional, Rachel Pike, to round out the majority of lady judges. It was a tough judging panel indeed as we watched McClure grill the girls behind Perfect Beauty, a niche ecommerce website for beauty products and interaction, followed three other eager pitches.

Following Perfect Beauty, a vivacious financial advisor presented Prosperity (spendonpurpose.com), a finance management system for small business owners. Labeling it a “behavioral based software” with 2600 paid subscribers, CEO, Leanne Ozaine-Smith found her niche through her love of teaching finance one-on-one. McClure also took no shame, explaining scalabity with Ozaine-Smith’s model built around one-on-one training sessions with her personally as part of the service, as a problem soon to be faced. Although, with a bright spark, the audience could easily relate to early traction with personal sessions with Leanne. Her presentation was captivating, despite a fearful judging panel of the scalability problem.

On the flip side, the panel congratulated the following presentation by CEO, Tara Cunt, for trying to tackle the difficult ecommerce space with her startup, Buypsphere. Hunt strives to improve product search with crowdsourcing through product questions, comments, and reviews. She called it the “Quora for shopping,” which is two words that this 500 women at Women 2.0 likely relate to.

Although, the judges were tough on the startup presenters, there was much to take away from their comments. I decided to sum them up, for all the men who unfortunately do not get a welcoming invite to Women 2.0:

  • While presenting, if their are any technical failures or moments unplanned, take that time to engage with the audience and keep them tuned in
  • Always think about scalabilty, even in the beginning
  • investors look through press, do not use it to explain current traction
  • Find 3-5 niches and focuses when choosing an audience
  • Understand the psychology of Persuasion
  • Register your company on Angel List early if you know you will be looking for funding

With much to think about from the pitches we were promptly greated by Facebook director of platform and social marketing, Katie Mitic for more inspiring startup tips. A member of the EBay board, with a strong female voice in the inner working of Facebook, it was no surprise to find her to be a charismatic speaker. Katie started with personal stories and spoke of her mission in social as humanizing technology. She left us with 3 main points in building a company:

  1. Start with a mission. Be big and ambitious, as this will be what inspires people to build with you.
  2. The first ten people make the culture. choose them carefully.
  3. Ship early and often. Build it, get it out, learn, repeat. This is the main objective of any company.

Mitic lastly left us with one powerful piece of advice that Robin Chase also heavily touched upon:

Products that are successful are not only product that you as an entrepreneur love, but your users love as well. Don’t build a product they like, build a product they love.

I couldn’t help feeling that love was in the air as we gathered for Women 2.0 on Valentine’s Day to tell tales explaining why women love technology—perhaps more than a currently male dominated Silicon Valley would assume.

7Feb

My work from Techzulu.com

American Immigration: The Invisible Wall to Innovation 
Techzulu.com

A look around technology industry, perhaps the heart of the global revolution, shows a happily working international community all pushing for the common goal of innovation.  The reality, however, of the coexistence between immigrants and their American peers is proving to be a one-sided pursuit, with qualified immigrants struggling to stay in the country to join the companies that they have co-founded.

America’s immigration system proves to be stifling inbound founders, engineers, and graduating foreigners looking to join the tech industry due to complex visa applications and provisions. Strict boundaries and a marathon of hoops to jump through just to submit your documentation as an immigrant, are resulting in less American educated immigrants staying to pursue the process, rather opting to return to their home countries. Even investors and experienced founders are caught in the same net as recently educated graduates looking to build companies.

Take the U.S. category E visa for investors as a prime example of the recent troubles. Morgan, Lewis, & Bockius, an international law firm, recently released a continued learning immigration law webinar to discuss the issue stating E visa provisions; clarifying just how difficult the process of immigration is proving to be. An E visa is meant for foreign investors looking to start a business in the U.S. or purely invest in established U.S. entities. Unfortunately, the visa requires that the entity be majorly owned by U.S. nationals, making it difficult for investing founders to reach requirements, as well an application checklist with no set amount.  USCIS, when checking the application will compare the dollar amount with other investments in the industry in order to disprove marginal amounts. At the same time, if the entity were to raise capital, any dropping share of the company below 50% for US share holders would disqualify the foreign investors from the E visa. Therefore, a founder bringing skills, a business, and perhaps an opportunity for job creation may be denied before the company can even be formed. With this, Silicon Valley has decided to speak out about the stifling affect of immigration law and the impacts that have caused crippling of the American tech industry.

In Silicon Valley’s favor, “U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) have authored bipartisan legislation aimed at jumpstarting the economy through the creation and growth of new businesses” through the reintroduction of the Start Up Act. Originally introduced by Senator Kerry and Senator Lugar in 2010, the act was reintroduced in late 2011 based on opinion that company creation could be a strong push towards job creation. “The Startup Act outlines a five-prong approach to job creation based on the proven track record of entrepreneurs:

  1. Reducing regulatory burdens
  2. Attracting business investment
  3. Accelerating the commercialization of university research
  4. Attracting and retaining entrepreneurial talent
  5. Encouraging pro-growth state and local policies,”

According to the official press release on Senator Moran’s blog.

The act is not only to change investment regulations into new businesses but also opened the doors to reforming the Sarbanes-Oaxley Act, which has scared recent foreign investment. On immigration, the Act would create “an Entrepreneur’s Visa for up to 75,000 immigrant entrepreneurs who register a business and employ at least two non-family member employees, and invest in their business within one year of obtaining the visa,” as outlined by Watson Immigration’s summary of the act on their blog (http://moran.senate.gov/). “Current H-1B Visa holders or those who have completed graduate level work in a STEM field would qualify; and encourage successful pro-growth state and local policies by studying state laws that affect new business formation and economic growth.”

But not so fast, as the law is still a proposal and not predicted to be enacted until at least later this year. To speed growth, some companies and venture capitalists, most notoriously Blueseed, feel so strongly about “U.S. immigration law choking the flow of ‘bold and creative’ entrepreneurs into Silicon Valley (Garling, Wired)” that they are building a floating IT fortress. The ship will be a place “where entrepreneurs can be ‘bold and creative’ right next to Silicon Valley without actually setting foot on U.S. soil,” as reported on byWired Magazine’s Caleb Garling. Yes, it is a floating crusade to be located 12 miles offshore of San Francisco free from immigration regulation. Wired goes on to tell us “this is more than just an idea. Big-name venture capitalist and PayPal founder Peter Thiel just sunk some cash into the Blueseed crusade,” releasing detailed mockups of the plans in December of 2011. Although until this “floating Fortress” becomes an immigration reality we are left to rely on the current visa choices, which don’t bode well for the emerging foreign entrepreneurs looking to found companies on US soil.

Photo of mockups taken from Wired article by Caleb Garling

In fact, “25% of the US science and technology companies founded had CEOs or lead technologists who were foreign born,” going back to MorganLewis’s recent account of the current immigrant statistics. In Silicon Valley, the numbers are among the highest for the amount of companies submitting applications for visas, as well as for the number of immigrants currently working as founding entrepreneurs. With H1B caps at 65,000, plus another 25,000 for individuals with post-graduate degrees from the US, based on employment sponsorship, where are founders to turn for the right to create an entity.

 

According to MorganLewis it is much harder for owner beneficiaries to get an H1B, restricting founders from being classified as they must prove employment by an external entity. Even the L-A visa created for managers, executives, and specialty talent require an entity abroad that must be held during the entire duration of your visa (up to 7 years) in which, the applicant must have worked at for at east one-year prior. Mark Zuckerberg certainly would not have made the cut for this right to form Facebook, with his beginnings from his college dorm room.

Requires an employer. Slide taken from MorganLewis Immigration presentation.

Although, in the case of Mark Zuckerberg, the opposing side may argue he may never had have a chance if an immigrant would have the flexibility to come in and create the company before he did. A side proving hard to argue “with almost 20% of the newest Fortune 500 companies­—those founded between 1985 and 2010- have an immigrant founder,” employing hundreds of thousands of US nationals, proving that the numbers show a need for reform (more from the Morgan Lewis, immigration webinar, 2012).

The Start Up America initiative will extend this opinion by shedding light on internal policies to make life easier for foreign entrepreneurs.  From the front lines of Silicon valley, the immigrant horror stories could fill up libraries of personal immigration battles out of everywhere from Apple, to young immigrants working at the most renowned venture firms, to highly publicized founders deported and running their companies remotely. For many, myself included, whether the solution be a floating fortress or reform it could not come quicker.

Jenna Hannon

Jenna Hannon looks like Barbie. That being said, she is a sponsored kiteboarder, snowboarder and skateboarder who talks a mean fellow geek tech. On the board of social graph leader, Mirror.me and a certified tech industry hobnobber, she writes about tech like a dudette just hanging with her bro’s.

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22Jan

Hollywood, technology, and the old fashioned who oppose SOPA

This week, I attended the Academy’s Visual Effects ‘BakeOff.’ It is an invitational event where ten films present to the Academy in hopes of receiving Oscar nominations for best Visual Effects in a film for the year. It is an event about innovation, technology, and this interaction applied to the arts… or at least, that is what I thought.

I was asked to attend by a film VFX supervisor who has worked on films that have presented in the past. He talked of the event showing behind the scenes work; a 15 minute documentary presentation to the member’s of the Academy on how these magical illusions built with cutting-edge technology were made (before and after shots, etc.). I was ecstatic. What a great way to present to a judging panel made up of actors, composers, past directors and producers, who are most likely not familiar with  the way this technology works (myself, for the most part, included).

Yet, to both our surprise, the event no longer works this way. The Bakeoff had reverted back to the old model. Arguments, lobbies, and a vote later, films were now presented by showing a ten minute edit of the film (no behind the scenes, no depth to understanding what goes into the technology to make these scenes). Now, we presume that the Academy has seen these films, as it is part of their job. Is it just a refresher? It seems almost as archaic as their voting method. They are to rank the films in order from one to ten, in order of best to worst. There are no questions of why? No psychologically calculated mix of questions bringing about underlying subconscious opinions, experience with the technology, or basis reasoning. Nope, just one to ten based on your feeling at that particular moment. No relation to special effects, just one to ten.

I couldn’t help but compare the archaic event of Hollywood to SOPA and PIPA. A fear of change, a fear of technology, and a fear of decades of innovation in every industry that Hollywood interacts with, and most notably a fear of sacrificing their precious bundles of money. No one explains it better than entrepreneurial professor at Stanford, Berkeley, and Columbia. and author, Steve Blank, when he wrote of these fears in relation to SOPA and PIPA on his blog.

The only innovation Hollywood has gracefully embraced is ‘innovative accounting,’ the magic of the books. It is practically a title of a Disney movie it is so widely known.

Rather, the innovation of technology and the changing landscape it has created has been nothing but positive for Hollywood. New and wider distribution has brought in a lot more liquidity for films. Easier access to content has opened film to more eyeballs. Theaters still create an experience, but the internet has allowed the art to last. Perhaps if they embraced this, they may be able to create an even wider film audience through the internet with more opportunities for advertising, genres, and cultural memes.

Like the Academy itself, it is not always the young and adaptive making the calls. Sometimes a system gets in place like concrete and just gets to ‘stuck’ in their ways to even open their eyes to a new generation quicker to  accept adaption then they will ever know. By the words of Seth Godin, “adapt to survive,” it is only natural.

-JennaHannon

© Copyright 2013, All Rights Reserved Jenna Hannon