Shutting down my first startup

At the end of December 2014, I shut down my first company, Virtrue. We had one vision – to build a global identity. We are starting to live in a globalized online world – Facebook, Skype, Twitter and just about every other online tool knows and barely recognizes any borders yet our physical, “trusted” identity is still based on country/nationality.

The core idea for Virtrue started when I thought about how I could use my seemingly good “identity” to transact. Transact can mean almost anything – payments, purchases, communications, access, chat and entre into various groups.

Identity is the killer app (or “identity is the platform” per a fantastic post by Chris Messina) and yet it was stuck in the 20th century paper world. I could lie and say that I went to Harvard – most people know the University and implicitly trust someone with that credential. However, it’s hard to verify the veracity of that statement. As President Reagan said during the cold war, “Trust but verify.”  We set out to do that – reduce fraud, reduce friction, reduce fear and enable more positive trusting transactions globally – essentially add verification to every transaction.

With a globally verifiable, trusted and accessible identity, you could do almost anything. Without an identity, transacting becomes far harder – especially globally where no one knows your name (which is sometimes a good thing).

The core part to any transaction is trust. At Virtrue, we initially attempted to quantify trust. The challenge, we found, is that this is impossible. As an example, because I know your friend, you might be willing to meet me for a drink. However, is that friendship a close enough connection to make you trust me to babysit your child? Maybe and it depends – on you, on the relationship, on each individual.

Since you cannot verify trust, you have to verify identity components. Each action we take creates part of our identity. I went to school (one component).  I graduated (another component).  I give off indicators of those components that we will call data exhaust.  Example of data exhaust – my friends who all claim the same component (college and same graduation year).  You can look at the components and combine them with other data that we give off each day we interact online to verify those components.

In the old identity world, to verify my college attendance and graduation is an expensive and slow proposition, which is incompatible with the speed of global transactions. You could verify by proxy such as by searching for someone’s email or name on social services and seeing if, from what you could see publicly, they seemed trustworthy but that inherently had risks (i.e. fake profiles).

Virtrue developed tools, using social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other non social tools to verify that I actually attended Vanderbilt. We could complete this verification in under a minute for less than a penny. In theory, with that verification, I could now transact anywhere on the power of my Vanderbilt degree and connection. If people trusted Vanderbilt or had friends from Vanderbilt they trusted, they were more likely to trust me. Or at least that was the idea.

Virtrue began in January 2012. We followed the Lean Startup methodology. Before we built anything, we tested whether trust actually increased the value (or number) of transactions. How? We posted fake tickets on Craiglist and A/B tested our posts. Post A was just a listing for a concert ticket. Post B was the exact same post but with a badge at the bottom saying “verified by Virtrue.” The badge was even clickable and took interested people to a very official looking web page. Our results were bad. There was no statistical difference between A and B.

We ignored our results (lesson learned!). We applied to YCombinator. We did not get in. We raised some money (yay! Startup “success”). We applied to another accelerator – Orange Fab – and did get in (yay and thank you Orange Fab team!). We plowed ahead.

We were sure that the rise of collaborative consumption (aka the “sharing economy”) was our golden ticket. In the summer of 2011, AirBnB had a major incident when crack addicts destroyed a woman’s home in San Francisco. AirBnB did not have any insurance. They did not have any policy to deal with this issue. They could get insurance but, we assumed, how could they deal with the inherent loss in trust and potential fear this would engender in their community? Answer – Virtrue Verified Identity!

Virtrue logo

Not true. Turns out that we should have paid attention to our Craigslist test. People are willing to transact in a million different scary and dangerous ways if they a) want a deal (a big reason why despite no security, Craigslist is still huge), b) think they are part of a safe community, c) feel safe (even when they should not). How many times have you met a new date in a bar because you thought the other strangers around you provided security? Tons. And guess what, for a very large majority of people, they never ever run into a problem. AirBnB and the other sharing economy companies realized this – safety is in the eye of the beholder and most people are inherently trusting.

After exhausting nearly all of our contacts in the sharing economy, we had to pivot. We chose hiring. Many companies spend millions on background checks of their employees. These background checks are slow and not always accurate (they can miss a lot). Example A (and we used this in a lot of pitch meetings) – Scott Thompson. For those who do not remember, Scott was the former CEO of Yahoo (just before Marissa Mayer). He was vetted up and down (including a likely $20k+ background check) and got the job. An activist investor who wanted him fired did a bit more checking and guess what – Scott lied about having a computer science degree. Instead, he took one computer science course. Just like that, our pivot seemed primed for takeoff. Every company would now realize the importance of background checks but not all of them would want to pay a ton to complete them.

Except that we only found a few companies where speed and cost actually mattered. Turns out, a background check that is slow and expensive is also very defensive if an employee later turns out to have major issues. In a CYA (cover your ass) world, using a faster, cheaper solution when a slow solution is safe is a not a winning recipe.

By this point, we were running out of cash and keeping the team motivated was also becoming a bit more of a challenge but we had one more pivot in us – securitized transactions based on identity verification. Put another way, fraud in online transactions is a massive unsolved problem (although a few cool companies are finally doing some things to fix it). We jumped in. Virtrue’s tool could tell you if that buyer from, say Belarus or Nigeria was real or fake. Should you trust their purchase or decline it? We could do that. But…not enough companies have this problem. We learned that fraud generally hovered under 1% for companies that knew what they were doing (and the ones that don’t know what they are doing don’t really have a problem so don’t care). That’s not a big need.

Virtrue was out of time. No more pivots. In the fall of 2013, the team disbanded. Starting, running, developing, pivoting, raising – all an amazing experience. I lost a massive amount of money. It was a great education.

Global verified identity still has not been solved. Facebook sort of does the trick for some things. LinkedIn verifies others. Neither are trustworthy. Peer lenders and fraud preventers are using much of the data exhaust to help make smarter decisions about individuals. I still don’t have an online passport of trust that I can take to any country and use it to transact.

My identity is my data and that is capital. I use it to transact already. I protect it and invest in it. Some day, I’ll be able to transact.

Epilogue: At the advice of our smart lawyers, we kept Virtrue open for 12 more months. We were able to sell some of our assets. Our investors received some money back (not everything but I’m proud of how much given how little we raised and how long we were in business). I’ve received calls from many companies thinking about doing work similar to Virtrue. I happily provide advice. I want to see a verified identity become a reality even if my team and I are not the ones to accomplish it. The team itself has moved onto fantastic new jobs. I helped start Dispatchr. I helped a friend’s company through a really challenging period. I’m now at an amazing personalization company, which I view as almost the next step (but way different application) of data exhaust. Here’s to the future!


1st time startup founder lessons

I learned a lot of lessons during my time as CEO of Virtrue (identity management & background checks).  I loved it.  I hated it.  I worked with zero pay.  It messed up plenty of personal relationships.  Despite all the work, it still failed.  I’ve written about why a bunch but have yet to publish the reasons (coming in another post).  

However, today was YCombinator Demo day and two companies in that batch clarified a key learning for me: FOLLOW THE MONEY [or users if you’re consumer focused].  

In Silicon Valley, it’s easy to get wrapped up in your own hype of how you are changing the world. You forget that first and foremost, you are building a business. At Virtrue, we pivoted three times but stuck with our core technology throughout.  While iterating on our core product, we also built out a nice side business for some of our customers – running background checks.  It’s not sexy.  Our product looked pretty bad.  A large part of the process we used for our customers was manual.  They did not see this (classic MVP move on our part).  

Background checks were the only part of Virtrue that ever made real money.  We had early talks with Lyft and a variety of the early (and now successful) pioneers of the Sharing Economy.  They wanted something really custom for background checks.  We wanted to push our social identity verification.  Background checks were just an added bonus to using [what we thought of as] our core product.  

Whoops.  One of the hottest companies at YC Demo Day was Checkr.  I’m sure they will raise a massive round.  They are a background check platform.  They are crushing it.  They do the same thing we did but built a nicer platform and actually made background checks the core of their business.  They saw a need (at their previous jobs) and followed it.  

At Virtrue, we saw a need.  Heck, we even saw good revenue.  We ignored it.  The whole team was made up of first time founders.  We should have followed the money.  


Side note: We actually looked deeply at the background check market and spend days debating whether to build something like Checkr.  In the end, as that would have meant giving up our core product and vision – i.e. a massive pivot (vs a mini market pivot) – we decided against the change.  Whoops.


Side note 2: for those who are curious, the other company that made me think “follow the money” was Edyn.  I was in an accelerator with Jason Aramburu and team way before they were called Edyn.  They followed the money and made a major leap.  Jason had the balls to follow the money.  The story of early Edyn is Jason’s to tell so I’ll leave it at that.  

From Android to Apple – why, oh why?

For those who know me, I made what seemed like a big move this week – from Android to iOS.  In the past six years, I’ve been lucky to own and use as my main phone, at various times: Blackberry, Android, iPhone 4, back to Android (HTC One S, HTC One, and Moto X), and just this week, iPhone 5s.  My Android stint lasted over two years.  I came to love many things about the platform, which made it tough to leave but I felt that the move was necessary.

Mobile phones have relatively distinct parts: 1. Software, 2. Hardware.  Apple makes the best hardware, bar none. It’s software (iOS) leaves a lot to be desired.

Apple’s hardware is beautifully crafted using the best materials and technology available.  However, some Android makers (notably HTC, followed creatively by Motorola) have figured out how to make nice hardware.  It’s still not Apple quality but it’s close.  For me, this matters.  Unfortunately for Apple, a large number of people beautiful hardware does not matter.  ~90% of people put a case on their phone, which makes it just a screen.  I cringe every time I see a case on an iPhone but I digress.

Since a majority of people have a case on their phone that makes the phone just a screen.  For many users, if it’s just a screen and you have either big pockets, a purse, or your smartphone is your computer and iPad rolled into one, bigger is better.  Android has followed that market, which means, for my tastes, flagship Android hardware has become too big.  5 inches or more is the new norm (although Motorola did a perfect sizing job with the Moto X at 4.7inches and I would bet Apple will do the same with the iPhone 6).

When you have cases + screens, the only way to differentiate is through software. On that front, Apple has lost its way. iOS 7.1.1 is seemingly identical to the original iOS Steve Jobs debuted.  Sure, the colors are different. Skeumorphism is dramatically reduced. I can add apps but, in the end, I still have a big list of separate apps that stop running when I close them.  For battery life, this is good but for usability, this is embarrassing and messy.  It’s as if beautiful hardware can’t mate with beautiful software.  On Android, I had widgets for my most important information at a glance. No need to open apps. I loved playing with different launchers (Themer is the most fun semi-launcher). Android could automatically sort my apps so I could avoid the hour I spent just doing it on my iPhone. Quality search on both iPhone and Android reduce the need for a list of apps in the first place. Finally, on iPhone, why am I still required to use one keyboard? The security risk of using third party keyboards is one reason but Apple has billions of dollars saved up and a few thousand engineers.  They could buy Swype or SwiftKey or, like Google, develop their own knockoff.

Finally, Android makers have gone one step further – gestures.  Apple developed (or popularized at least) pinch & zoom, etc. However, that’s it and that was a long time ago in the mobile world. On my Moto X, I could shake my wrist to turn on the camera. Using Themer, I could do different gestures to launch my top apps or do an activity. All of this saved time. It seems as if Apple is caught in an Innovator’s Dilemma – changing up iOS may hurt their core user base so they are afraid of making any big changes.

So given that a) some Android makers have decent hardware, and, b) iOS has near zero new innovation (and a lot of catching up to do), why would I ever switch?

Android’s open world, widgets, and customizations make it wonderful.  However, those same customizations drain battery, open up security holes, and potentially break critical functions of the phone.  Second, my one big luxury item is buying the best new phone (I sell my old one on eBay for, generally, a very small loss so it works out cash-wise).  The best new Android phones are now too big for me, which relegates me to buying their mid-range phones.  My Moto X was only 6 months old so I could have kept using it.  However, for reasons I still cannot figure out, it started having issues with its clock.  This meant that, twice, my alarm simply did not go off.  Google Hangouts, which became my default SMS client, took forever to load each message.  My final reason: I took a job at the best Apple accessory maker – Henge Docks.  Since we build the beautiful Gravitas iPhone & iPad docks and I believe in eating one’s own dogfood, not being able to use a Gravitas was frustrating.

So here I am, staunch Android user making more mobile compromises by buying an iPhone. Amazing hardware with the iPhone combined with old, non-innovative software on iOS. The mobile world is still filled with tradeoffs.  I’m hoping someone – Apple, HTC, Samsung, Motorola or even Nokia (I actually love Windows phone but that’s for another post) will create the perfect device but I have yet to see it.



A startup’s perspective on a negative 2013 – “back to work”

I am a member of a startup community: the Founders Network.  Within the FN community, we have a variety of discussions on everything from how to hire, how to fire, how to build an app, how to raise funds, and more.  A recent discussion started me thinking and I figured I would repost my answer (with a few modifications).

Another member brought up the “Series A Crunch” talk that’s going around the Bay (world?) right now.  She wanted to hear some opinions that would provide a counter-balance to the negativity.  Her links included the following:

The main gist of these articles is this: 1. 2013 is not like 2012.  Got it, not news. There are always cycles. 2. As a startup, you better be good or else you won’t survive.  3. Sentiment “might” be heading in the negative direction.  BUT smart investors know that is the time to invest (don’t follow the herd, lead). 4. If you believe in your startup, then macro sentiment doesn’t matter.  Remember how long it took Jeff Bezos to raise his first round of funding?

One of the FN members had this to say in response:

“I think cooling in the funding markets could be good for our members for a few reasons:

  • Valuations were unsustainably high. The market needs to correct in order to prevent another bubble/implosion.
  • Too many copy cat companies were getting funding (e.g. 1,000 daily deals sites).  Less funding means less noise in the marketplace so the good companies (the ones in fn) can get the attention they deserve. 🙂
  • Less funding out there also means more engineers back on the market for you to hire!
  • A growing number of our members are bootstrapping longer, farther and some have no intentions of raising outside funding.”

Here is my reply:

  • High valuations are [generally] good for startups [if the startup can deliver].  They aren’t good for investors but that’s not my problem.  Note: the flip side is that your next round is a downround.  However, that is more a function of a) the startup not delivering, and, b) greed (albeit understandable – it’s hard to walk away from a lot of money at a high valuation).
  • Copy cats – if an investor wants to fund it and that funding enables even a modicum of innovation, that’s a good thing.  Once again, not the startup’s problem.  Of course, I’d recommend most startups think about a “big” idea and go for it but there is a reason for the copy cats – there is a market for their services (and for acquisitions).
  • Re bootstrapping – definitely great if you can do it.  Then again, startups are about growth.  Money usually accelerates growth.  If you bootstrap for too long in the hopes of receiving a higher valuation (i.e. You give away less equity), then you are making an already big risk (i.e. Your investment in your own company) even bigger.  Taking an investment de-leverages you.  Yes, you give up some equity but, in exchange, you give up some risk.  Plus, you have a better shot at growing you company faster and leaving your competitors in the dust.
  • Re the Series A crunch:  while the macro economic environment could change this, I actually don’t buy into it much.  If you are a good company, you’ll be funded in good or bad times.  Even if you are a subpar company, you probably can get funded – startups still offer the potential for much more growth than almost any other investment (of course, the risk is comparably high).
    • I view all the hype around this crashing as just that, hype.  Yes, some things may change a bit but there is a lot of money floating around.  As a startup, it’s your job to a) find the money for funding, and, b) find the money from your customers.  If you can’t do a or b, then don’t play.
      • Note: take what I write with a grain of salt… 😉

The same FN member who has the somewhat negative view ended on a very high and true note: “While it’s good to listen to industry news and commentary, I think it’s more important to focus on what you can control: building a great startup.”

I’ll take that advice.  Back to it.  Heads down.  See you in 2013.

iPhone vs Android and Why I am back on Android

In the past two years, I have used every major phone OS except for Windows Mobile and every major carrier.

Two years ago I had a Blackberry.  When I first received it, I thought I had truly arrived heck, someone in the organization thought I was important enough to need to be in touch 24/7!  Wow!  J  My Blackberry service was through Sprint and also Verizon.  Zero issues.  Seriously, I found both services to be pretty comparable (this was in the DC metro area).

One and a half years ago, I got my first Android phone, which was on Verizon.  I loved it.  Part of my excitement stemmed from the fact that it simply seemed modern in comparison to Blackberry.  I could do so much more.  However, I’m a tech nerd at heart and I love modifying the tools I use.  When I receive a new phone, I find all the best apps and test them all.   I start modifying the phone to my liking.

What were some of the top things about Android:

  1. Widgets: the fun little boxes of information that are constantly updating
  2. Apps: these were pretty good and the selection seemed fine (granted, testing out comparative apps on iOS was not a perfect 1:1 since I could only do it on the iPod Touch I owned).  However, coming from Blackberry, Android was a revelation.
    1. Cheap apps: Android apps are much more likely to be free/lower cost than their iPhone brethren.
  3. Phone and carrier options: the wide array of phones at any and every price is great.
  4. Software: The Android OS, while far from perfect (and sometimes pretty buggy) feels modern.  Iterations are rapid (even if the carriers do not always send them out).  Andy Rubin and crew looked at the iPhone and its weaknesses and thought they could do it better.  In many ways, they did.
    1. Swype: Simple the fastest way to sw”type” on a smartphone.  Fast and easy and I think I make fewer errors than even using the iPhones pretty smart typing capability.
  5. Mods: Even as the hardware on my phone aged, with software mods and tweaks, I could keep my phone fresh and new feeling.
  6. Connection to Google, the Cloud, and contact management: I am a big user of Google products (namely Gmail, Greader, maps, and Picasa).  On Android, since it is built by Google, these apps are top and extremely well done.
    1. De-dupe is nearly perfect and, at least on my former HTC Incredible, an impressive unified contact list was built with my friend’s info from gmail, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn so I could see everything they were doing.  Nice.

Android, like every piece of technology, has its drawbacks, as well:

  1. Battery: With all the widgets and multi-tasking, every Android phone drains its battery fast.  Charging during the day is a must (this is supposedly even more true if you have a 4G phone).
  2. Quality apps: fewer of them but really, with ~500k in both the iPhone and Android market, it’s easy to find a decent app for what you want.
  3. A more challenging developer market: this is more important for the people building what I like to use/test but when you have hundreds (if not thousands) of different configurations of phones, it is tough to build just one perfect and beautiful app.
  4. Security: Android is less secure than the iPhone if for no other reason than that the iTunes store is locked and closed by Apple.  Your app must be approved.  Android’s app store is open (although I believe Amazon’s Android app store does vet apps, which makes it a great alternative).
  5. Software: Because it’s newer and has had less time to mature, Android has bugs.  I had to restart my phone because it froze.
    1. Software 2: because the Android OS is open, carriers are free to install whatever bloatware they want on it and they do (note: Verizon is the worst offender).  You cannot easily delete this bloatware.

Seven months ago, when my old company was acquired, the acquiring company forced all users [who received a phone paid for by the company] to either move to an iPhone or Blackberry.  Given the lack of innovation from RIM in about 24 months, I did not see that as a viable option.  Hence, to the iPhone I went.

Top things I love about my iPhone 4:

  1. Hardware: this is simply the most beautiful piece of phone hardware (any hardware?) on the market today.  I love looking at it.  I love how it feels in my hand. It screams quality, craftsmanship, and a love of design over anything else.  It is pretty much perfect (until the iPhone 5 launches, at least!).
    1. Screen: up until about five months ago, no Android manufacturer could come close to matching the quality of the iPhone 4’s retina display.  It looks great and I quickly became spoiled.  Colors are bright and vibrant.  Pixels are basically nonexistent.
    2. Apps: the newest and best apps are still released on the iPhone.  If you want them, then you need an iPhone.  Simple.  Note that this is beginning to change and may be flipped in 12-24 months due to the simply much larger market represented by Android.
      1. Due to a few reasons: 1. A lot of the app developers are in silicon valley.  This place loves Apple. 2. Easier development environment – one screen (sort of two now with the iPad).  3. Higher payment rates – i.e. iPhone users are much more likely to pay for the app.
      2. Software: in nearly every situation, the iPhone OS simply works.  No questions.  It just does.  Of course, when it breaks or freezes (rare), you don’t know why but you likely didn’t lose anything so it is not a huge deal.
      3. Battery: 95% of the time, I can get through an entire day of use.  This includes a few hours of calls plus moderate email/internet browsing and probably a little GPS map use.

Top things I dislike about my iPhone 4:

  1. Hardware: it feels slow and that slowdown is noticeable (maybe a software issue).  The iPhone4’s processor is now outdated (although, granted, the iPhone 4S has rectified this issue but since I only have a regular iPhone 4, that is what I am comparing).
  2. Software: the iPhone OS simply seems and looks old.  In many ways it is the same OS that Steve Jobs launchedat MacWorld 2007.  Sure, notifications and a version of multitasking were launched.  Both were catchups to Android.  Oh, and I can put my apps in folders! Wee… (sarcasm ensues).  The iPhone OS is functional, secure, and stable.  It works.  However, it is no longer modern.
    1. As a side note: the iOS software sometimes does things I simply cannot figure out like when it beeps like I have new mail or some other notification (despite all sounds for all notifications being turned off) but when nothing worth notifying me about has occurred.  Still not sure what is going on.
  3. Contact management and the Cloud: Apple has iCloud.  It is supposed to backup everything on your iOS devices.  Great idea.  However, in Apple’s drive towards simplicity, this tool doesn’t in fact work well.  With both my iPhone and iPad backing up to the Cloud, iCoud is out of space.  This is much more challenging to manage than it should be.
    1. Contact management is worse: on Android, de-dupe is nearly flawless and connecting y contacts to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter is easy.  It’s called a unified contact list.   The iPhone doesn’t do this.  It is probably a control thing.  Instead, you have to go through an imperfect workaround to get your friend’s photos in your contact list and these photos do not seem to update regularly without your manual involvement.  I also had contacts on my old computer plus a few other places.  Apple decided to suck all of them into my phone without any de-dupe.  Now I have about 4-5 different contacts for the same people.  There is NO way to de-dupe (although yes, you can link accounts but over a few thousand contacts, this isn’t really an option), which leads me to…
  4. iTunes: Apple, with iCloud, now lets you bypass iTunes, which is a blessing.  However, it is still one of the main ways to get your music, photos, and backups completed/updated, etc.  This is a major problem when you have two different iOS devices (like an iPad and iPhone).  iTunes copies apps that were installed and downloaded for one device onto the other, which means wasted time deleting those apps where they are not wanted.  #Inefficient.
        1. iTunes is also bloated and slow.  Move it all to the Cloud (like Spotify + Netlifx) and you will have solved the problem.  I don’t want this on my computer and your updates and new terms of service (TOS) are annoying.
        2. Closed system: Apple locks you in.  They don’t let you make changes.  You are behind their firewall and you have to go with the choices they make.  This actually is both a positive and negative thing.  Some people love it due to the inherent security and simplicity of this approach.  Others hate or at least dislike it.  Since I am in the latter camp, I’m putting this one here.
        3. AT&T: I’ve never had major dropped call issues with AT&T (rare but it does occur and it never really happened on Verizon or Sprint).  However, I do find their network to be super slow (despite their advertising campaigns stating otherwise).  When you need to start driving somewhere but also need a map of where to go and nothing shows up for minutes, that is a problem.

Since I am starting my own company, I needed a new phone.  Which to choose, iPhone (4S since I was buying new) or Android??  In the end, the choice was simple – Android but that was driven primarily because I choose T-Mobile as my carrier.  TMobile had the best deal around by a lot and they do not carry the iPhone.  However, if I had a choice, it would have been much more challenging.

All the best Android phones are HUGE (i.e. screens that are massive).  I have an iPad and a laptop.  I don’t need a mini iPad in my pocket.  I prefer the smaller iPhone screen.  The iPhone 4S is also much faster than the original 4 (the one I currently have) plus has probably the best camera (plus photo software) on any mobile smart phone.  That is compelling.

Android has a lot of variety and software that I prefer. It also has 4G speeds, which, I actually don’t care that much about – I just want the data plan to work when I need it.  A little slower but greater reliability is fine by me plus, 4G eats battery.

So what should you choose – that depends on a) carrier choice, b) whether screen size matters, c) whether price matters (although this is less so with some type of iPhone being available at just about every price point), d) whether apps matter (this goes both ways…quality (iPhone) vs price (Android) since selection is mostly similar unless you need the best and newest).  Good luck choosing – choice is wonderful to have so enjoy it!

Side note: I think Windows Mobile 7 is the best OS out on the market.  It looks the best and it is the best combination of the iPhone and Android.  It is the most modern.  However, it lacks app and or the killer phone hardware (although the Nokia 900 might change that).  If apps don’t matter too much to you but working on MS office does, then go Windows mobile. 🙂

p.s. Which Android phone did I buy?  Samsung Galaxy SII on T-Mobile.

p.p.s. sorry for the formatting issues.  Wrote this post originally on world while flying.  Too late in the night to deal with HTML.

Open-sourcing and Rooting

Router:  The past week was an exciting one – last week, I open-sourced my router with DD-RT.  DD-RT is a linux based, open-sourced firmware for routers.  My old Linksys router kept losing its wifi abilities.  The only way to fix it was via a hard reset.  This became extremely annoying.  Hence, I purchased a new router, the Netgear RangeMax Wireless N-300/WNR3500L, which is pretty powerful and easy to “upgrade.”  The DD-RT process took a bit longer than expected (~45 minutes) but, since I completed it, everything runs quickly and well — no complains plus, I have a lot more control over my router.  I’m the sort of guy who notices the fastest drop off in speed (I constantly check Speedtest), so having a router that I can fully control is nice.

Android Rooting: While working on the router was fun, rooting my Android phone was way more fun and interesting.  I recently returned from a trip to Mexico.  Prior to the trip, I had resolved to root my Droid 2 Global – it was slow and not what I believed the Android experience should be (I was starting to have dreams of going back to Blackberry so you know it was bad).  Immediately prior to the trip, I spoke with Verizon about adding international calling.  Long story short – the Droid 2 Global was not able to accept the service change.  After nearly two hours on the phone, Verizon resolved to send me a “new” phone.  However, since I was leaving the next day, I was lucky in that my company has extra Blackberries sitting around and we set one up quickly.  Given my previous dreams, using the Blackberry for the week was a nice reminder of why I left RIM.

The moment I returned from my trip, I decided to instead root an older HTC Incredible my brother gave me and keep the “new” Droid 2 Global in as new a condition as possible since I wanted to sell it (I don’t use the keyboard as much as I thought and my international travel is minimal right now).  I rooted it – going from Android 2.1 to 2.3 and then down to 2.2 since I wanted to use some of the HTC Sense UI/programs.

So far – major improvement although I think a lot has to do with the phone and not the rooting.  The initial rooting was incredibly simple (basically one step using Unrevoked).  Adding ROMS was a bit more challenging – not because it is hard to find them but mainly because there were weird boot looping issues that cropped up.  Nevertheless, I was able to run Cyanogen’s Gingerbread ROM (7.0) although, for the moment, I am trying out Skyraider’s Sense 4.0 ROM (just released a few days ago) even though it is Android 2.2.  The process took a while but it was a great experience.

Time to step away from the computer and head outside (with my “new” phone)!

TEDx San Jose 2011

Two weeks ago, I attended TEDx San Jose.  I have always wanted to attend a TED event.  It was amazing.

For those who do not know, TED stands for Technology, Education, and Design.  It is one of, if not, the, pre-eminent conference in the world.  They bring in a large assortment of the most interesting, important, and influencing people in just about any field (of course with a focus on the TED areas of expertise).  A few years ago, they starting putting their TED talks online.  I saw a few and was hooked.  TED Talks are short (under 18 minutes) and people sometimes practice months before giving them — how else to talk about your most passionate area of interest and convey its wonder in such a short period?  I would love to attend a TED conference.  Sadly, it is out of my price range (~$6,000) plus I believe you need an invitation.

Luckily, TED went open source two years ago and started their TEDx program.  TEDx allows anyone to start their own TED conference on just about any topic.  I found out about one in the DC area last year but could not attend.  However, I was reading Robert Scoble’s blog and he mentioned he was speaking at TEDx San Jose.  Since I sort of view Scoble as somewhat of a Silicon Valley legend (in fact, someone I very much just wanted to meet), I thought going to the conference was perfect.  I moved out to Cali to meet interesting, smart people who wanted to change the world.  What better place than a TED conference right in the middle of Silicon Valley?!  I signed up and the cost was a very reasonable $100.

The conference, which was an entire Saturday (from ~8am-9pm including the after-party), was incredibly well-done (kudos to the organizers).  The speakers were amazing.  Everyone from Salman Khan (Khan Academy and recent TED speaker) to Dr. Kim Silverman (a major guy at Apple but who wowed the crowd with amazing magic), Kevin Surace (Inc’s entrepreneur of the year), Jonathan Trent (“Green” ideas and Nasa PhD scientist), Karen Trivelsky (started an amazing company from literally the ground up and is now helping out hundreds of underprivileged kids with college and a People Magazine “Hero Among Us”), to Margo McAuliffe (started an amazing girl’s school in Kenya and you can’t help but want to donate to her cause) were great .  The organizers suggested that everyone sit somewhere different after each session – I did and met great folks.  Plus, at lunch, I strategically sat at Scoble’s table and had a pretty interesting conversation with him!

My friends tried to convince me to go skiing the weekend of TEDx San Jose.  I refused and I am glad that I did (although I did miss some amazing powder).  TEDx – thanks for a great experience.