Music industry’s future – Pandora’s going public and Spotify is raising funds…and why both are bad deals

For those who have missed the recent news, on Februarly 11, Pandora filed their S-1 papers (the documents the government requires you to file prior to going public).  They hope to raise ~$100M.  Here is an article from the NYTimes on their filing.  Rumor has it that Spotify, the big new European offering, is about to raise ~$100M from DST at a $1B valuation!  Of course, you have iTunes and Google music lurking the background plus a slew of competitors from Rdio to old stalwarts like Napster.
There are plenty of reasons to become excited about the music business (everyone likes and listens to music, right??!).  However, there are even more reasons why I would never, ever want to invest in the industry or to own stock in a company trying to build a business on the deadly ashes of the past.
  1. You do not control your own destiny: I would never want to be in a business where someone else controls my destiny.  Music is that industry.  The labels will squeeze you for every penny of profit at one time or another.  Even if you reach a decent deal with them now, say, for 3-5 years, if you are a success in that time frame, they will kick your butt in negotiations in round 2.  They will squeeze ever bit of profit and then, while you are bigger in 3-5 years (revenue-wise), you will be once again at zero profits.  In my view, that is not sustainable.  Pandora’s filing highlights this perfectly.  The company has been in existence since 2000 yet is still not profitable.  I love the company’s service and credit to them and Tim Westergren (founder) for what they have been through and accomplished.  Nevertheless, 11 years later and with significant revenue, they are not profitable and nothing in their future makes me believe they will be.  The labels will squeeze every bit of profit from Pandora and others like it.
  2. Netflix envy:  If you think Pandora or Spotify could be the next Netflix, watch out.  The Netflix model (and their wildly successful stock) may make you salivate.  Dont buy the hype.  I personally predict a sharp drop in their stock price once they announce their new licensing deals with the movie/TV labels.  If I had enough time to focus on investing seriously, I’d be shorting the stock hard.  Starz made a huge mistake a few years ago (when they signed a generous deal with Netflix) but it and it’s co-labels won’t do the same again.  Netflix is either going to pay dearly for that content (i.e. no profits) or will do without the content.  Without the content, people have fewer reasons to buy from Netflix and will look to alternative methods of consuming that content.  Switching costs in Netflix or Spotify’s business are essentially ZERO!  People can and will leave (unless you build a community, which Spotify is trying to do and Netflix has failed to do but even then, this might not save you – see Myspace music).
  3. Market is huge – isn’t that important?.  Investors love big markets and the music industry is certainly that.  However, check out any chart for the industry’s finances (revenue or profit).  Down down down no matter the format.  People don’t want to pay for music anymore.  Sure, a service like Spotify sounds enticing but Napster (the legitimate version), and the millions of other competitors out there (including, even, Pandora) have not exactly taken off in terms of profit or revenue.  Instead, they have gone out of business or slowly eked by.  Sadly, people are used to free music.  A small % of Pandora’s audience purchases their paid version.  From what I have read of Spotify, it is the same in Europe.  Paying customers are small.  Mobile may change that equation but not by much.  How long until we see a Kazaa for mobile?  People love music but paying for it is a challenge (although I would stipulate that is because the prices are out whack with what the market will bear).
  4. Revenue from music purchases.  If you are an investor and believe that revenue from music purchases will enhance your bottom-line, you are making a dangerous assumption.  Assume this money will go away.  Conversion from a free song to owning a song is low to start with and, I believe, will shrink with time.  Owning music is passe (or will be in time as model’s like Spotify take hold and people realize owning music makes no sense…it is always available via the cloud).

Finally, to end where I started – in the music business, you never control your own destiny.  The music labels do and they are old, dinosaur behemoths.  Unless you, as an investor, are into that sort of thing, I would never get into bed with them.  Dinosaurs don’t change.  They go extinct.

 

Dishnetwork – how NOT to treat customers

As readers of this blog know, I recently moved from DC to San Francisco.  I am not a big TV watcher but in my old apartment, I had roommates who wanted TV.  Hence, I found what I thought was the best option, Dish Network satellite TV.  The price was right.  Of course, as with many digital services, I was required to sign a two year lease.  At my point in life, it is rare to stay somewhere for two years but the contract was fine since Dish offers “free” moves to a new location.  However, since my building in DC only allowed Dish (vs Dish and DirectTV) and you could not have your own satellite dish, prior to agreeing to a contract, I specifically asked whether they would charge me to cancel if I ever moved to a building that did not allow Dish Network.  I was explicitly told that, in that situation, I would be able to cancel free of charge.  I signed up.

What a mistake!  I had two days to find a new apartment when I moved.  I found a great one but, as it turns out, they do not allow Dish Network (only DirectTV).  No satellite dishes allowed.  I just called Dish to cancel the contract given the situation.  Michael, whose operator id is T7X, was mostly professional and straight to the point but not helpful or considerate given the situation.

Here is what I was told:

1. We only allow people out of their accounts if they move somewhere you cannot receive Dish Network.  I told him that made perfect sense.  I cannot receive Dish at my new condo (not allowed).  He said that is not what he meant but only where line of site for a satellite was impossible.  Interesting semantic difference and I feel like I was sold a lot of BS.  Michael reminded me that the FCC requires building to allow you to have access to all providers.  I think he is wrong on this since the board of my new building made the choice (which I bet is a loophole in the law).  Nevertheless, having Dishnetwork as a TV option is NOT possible in my building.

2. Michael, in his infinite wisdom, then said I should have thought about this fact when moving.  Given my two days to find a new place across the country, I said which satellite TV provider was allowed in my building was not at the top of my list of why to choose one building over the other.  However, the insult was helpful (nice training Dish).

3.  Michael explained that the only main option was to cancel the account – $260 cancellation fee!  Of course, another option is to continue to pay for service that I cannot use.  Helpful.  Really helpful.

4. He said I could also transfer the account the another person.  This meant that someone else could continue to use the account so at least it was being used.  People have moved into my old apartment and were using the account but now wanted something new.  This is a less than ideal situation.  Of course, if they want to set up a TV in a different room from how it was originally set up, they would be required to pay $50 fee.  If I moved the account to someone else in a different location, DishNetwork would not require me to pay that fee.  Odd since keeping the account in the same place will actually save Dish money.  Michael was zero help.  Nothing he could do for me on that.

5. Assigning the contract – Michael said that assigning the full contract to the new tenants is not possible despite the fact that legally, I am fairly certain you can assign any contract you want.  “Those are the company rules,” he said.  Interesting in that at one point, he quoted FCC rules (when it helped his point) and then quoted company rules when those made more sense.

Lessons learned: Dishnetwork has ZERO interest in me ever using them again.  That is fine.  It is a perfectly valid business decision albeit one I consider stupid.  As I told Micheal, I do not plan on living in my current building the rest of my life.  Beyond this terrible experience, I actually liked the service and would have bought it again when I had the option.  No more.

I realize I signed a contract and am obligated to it although my situation makes it near impossible to fulfill the terms (i.e. they provide me satellite TV that I can actually watch).  In essence, despite me nearly begging Michael to find some option that would work (or at least make me feel better about the situation), he assured me there was nothing he could do.  Two options: 1. Pay the $260 cancellation fee or 2. beg the new tenants, who I do not know, to join me on the account (since I cannot assign it to them), and then pay $50 to have a Dishnetwork technician come over and turn on an outlet.  Michael, maybe for next time, you could have at least offered that $50 for free (since it would have been free if they had a new address).  Flexibility and a little bit of kindness/understanding would have been appreciated.

UPDATE 4/16/11

The only way, barring legal means, to exit a contract with Dish is to live in a place where you cannot receive service.  Dish sent a technician last week to check on whether I could receive a signal in my new place.  After 5 minutes of looking at his compass and a few other gadgets, the technician said that there was no way I could receive a signal (I face NW into a large building – yea, it’s a wonderful view!).  I spoke to his manager on the phone to confirm.  They said I would be hearing from Dish to cancel my contract.  A week later, I did not hear from them so I called.  Turns out, they have a rule (that no one informed me about beforehand) that requires validation by a second technician.  I guess they don’t trust the first guy who goes – it is just a simple compass reading plus a bit more, right?  Weird that they would want to spend the money and time of their techs to send them twice to my place so that I could exit my contract (13 months remaining and I’m only paying them $16/mo).  Really, Dish, is this smart?

Plus, it is a huge waste of my time since I have to be around and then spend a ton of time with them on the phone arguing about why they are wasting my time and why they never called (since each day I have service when I can’t use it is another day that I must pay for it).  Stupid business and not one I will ever use again.  Looking forward to meeting your next tech tomorrow morning and hearing him say the same thing.

Android Fail – Battery Issues galore

I have a Droid 2 Global.  It is about three months old.  It is supposedly one of the best Android phones on the market.  Verizon rates it at 500 minutes of use (or nearly 8.5 hrs) of active use battery life or 230 hours in standby.  I am not sure where they come up with these numbers.  If you do anything with your phone, the battery will [quickly] fail.  Or, put another way, Android phones do not seem to understand “standby” or, if they do, Verizon’s definition of standby is a far cry from actual normal use.

My first Android phone was the Droid 2 regular.  I returned it.  Why?  Two reasons: 1. The Droid 2 Global launched with a “better” processor and global abilities.  2. The Droid 2 regular’s battery failed almost right away each day.  All day long (i.e. until the battery died), it would heat up to a nearly burning point in my pocket.  It didn’t matter that no major programs were running or that the screen was off – something was working…working very very hard and draining the battery.  Fail.  Return to Verizon.

I am fairly technical.  I enjoy playing around with my phone.  I dig into the settings.  When I first received the Droid 2 Global, it thankfully did not burn a hole in my pocket (although it becomes oddly warm while completely “off” and just sitting in my pocket) but by noon (starting at 6:30am), the battery was at less than 50% with minimal use.  I dug and dug into settings.

Now, I have my phone set to force quit nearly every program.  Nothing except for my work email is supposed to update in the background (unless on WiFi).  Sadly, despite this setting existing, it does not work.  Some programs do update (such as Facebook (not today though since not logged in), BBC, Pulse, and Google Finance).  Of course, other programs that I do want to update do not – Weather and my Google Voicemail are two key ones.

What happens when this occurs – battery fail! I am now prepared for this outcome and assume it will happen.  I bring a charger with me to work and keep it on me nearly all the time.  I have an extra battery.  Today, however, I forgot the charger, which led me to do a forced test.  How long would my battery last now that I have done everything I can possibly imagine to conserve it?

Answer – 8.5 hours after taking it off the charger, I was at 20% remaining charge.  To reach this point, one would assume I actually used my phone.  Sadly, that was not the case.  Here is my usage: about 20 text messages (10 sent, 10 received).  Exactly 15 minutes on the phone (for work, I should add!).  2 NYTimes articles read while waiting for something….nothing more.  Since I knew I would be hurting for power, I did not look at my work or personal email (Gmail) although they were syncing (until I attempted to turn off sync…and my attempt also failed since the button did not work).

I have looked for the battery culprit but to no avail.  None of the diagnostic programs I have run can point it out perfectly.  The best one, Spare Parts, says that 60% of my battery went to “other” programs.  It does not specify.  6% went to the screen. 3% went to the phone.  The processor was barely used for battery drain.

By comparison, my colleague joined me on the train home.  She has a Droid X.  She took it off the charger this morning.  It is her personal phone so she didn’t use it at all during the work day.  She received a few texts and it is syncing with Gmail (but not work email).  She had about 80% of her battery remaining.

What does mean?  Simply put, a few things:

  1. The Droid line of phones (Droid 2 or Droid 2 Global) have some issue.  All you have to do is read the comments on Verizon about the phone to confirm that.
  2. Motorola, Verizon FAIL (I do not specifically think it is an Android issue).
  3. I believe that some software Motorola (or, less likely, Verizon) installed is at fault.  I’ve seriously contemplated rooting my phone.  I am nearly at the last straw.
  4. Companies like Motorola need to focus on smart, efficient software.  Crapware and MotoBlur do exactly zero for me except to dislike your company’s products more (I should add that my battery life did improve once I got rid of MotoBlur).  Most regular users probably do not know you have a special skin.  They DO know, however, that they have a failure of a phone from Motorola.  Is that a worthwhile tradeoff?
  5. Battery life is key.  See Louis Gray’s blog post.
  6. Finally…fail fail fail.  I know these phones are powerful.  I know they can do a huge amount.  I love smartphones.  I hate phones that are warming up in my pocket when supposedly asleep. Fail.

A few side notes:

  1. My iPad last for days of usage.  While it is not using 3G, it is updating my work email account all day long (via WiFi).  Its screen is on, usually, for at least two hours a day (typing emails, on the Internet, listening to music, reading books, etc).  My Motorola Droid 2 – The screen is actually on for less than an hour each day and yet it cannot do 8 full hours.  Moto Fail.  Moto Fail.  Moto Fail.
  2. I beat up on Motorola a lot since I think it is mostly their fault – hardware issues plus all the crap they add on top in an inane attempt to differentiate (although I definitely understand why they want to try).  A know a lot of people on various Android devices from HTC, Samsung and more who have similar issue.  Android definitely needs some work on this front.  Multitasking is a culprit but not the only one (at least make the kill task switch work) and there is no reason why a phone that is supposed to be sleeping is in fact heating up my leg.
  3. My Verizon 3G mobile hotspot also died today.  It was fully charged yesterday and off all day today.  Why – poor design.  The “on/off” button: a) is in a place where it is easily knocked, b) doesn’t actually turn off half the time I attempt to turn it off.  A hotspot (and paying for the service) is no use when it doesn’t work.

Verizon iPhone and why I simply do not care

Tomorrow is [supposedly] the big iPhone Verizon announcement.  Verizon is holding a big, fully media covered, event in NYC.  Tech bloggers from the major publications are headed to the Big Apple (Techcrunch, as an example).   This is a major.big.deal….in a post-CES techworld where there is nothing much else going on.

A few facts (as we currently know them): the Verizon iPhone 4 will be essentially identical to its GSM-cousin except that, and this is my guess (i.e. I have not read it anywhere else), it will be a worldphone, which means it will work on essentially any network anywhere (except for 4G/WiMax networks).  Cool.  The iPhone is an amazing piece of hardware.  It is the best hardware on the market (assuming you do not want a keyboard).  Its software (iOS) just works and has ~150,000 more apps than its nearest competitor (the Android market).

I recently purchased a Droid 2 Global on Verizon, which means that I essentially have the “best” smartphone currently available on Verizon.  “Best” is clearly subjective but it has the fastest available processor, a great screen, and is a world phone.  Most importantly, it is running the latest publicly release build of Android (2.2 except for those Nexus S customers on T-Mobile with 2.3).  However, the phone is far from perfect – the software is sometimes sluggish, it tends to reset on me every time I plug it into my computer, and it is heavy (partially due to the keyboard), and battery life is so-so.  Despite years of false rumors, I was fairly confident that the iPhone 4 was going to launch on Verizon in winter 2011.  So why didn’t I wait and why is all this extra hype a bit bothersome?

1. I have bought into the Google ecosystem in most ways (although I try to use Bing here and there).  Outside of work, Gmail is my main email program.  Google maps is my go-to map program on nearly a daily basis.  Google voice is awesome.  Google calendar is my personal calendar system. On the iPhone, these [mostly] work but not nearly as well nor do they receive the fastest updates.  As these are my daily go-to programs, I want the best.

2. Lack of control.  I have an iPad, which is essentially the same iOS running on the iPhone, and while it is great, the lack of control over the system and how I use it, bothers me.  Granted, if you are willing to give up a lot of control over your main computing device (i.e. your smartphone) in exchange for a rock-solid OS, then the iPhone is a good choice.  I like to modify things to suite me so the iPhone is no way to go.  Note that on the iPad, which I really only use to consume media, I care less about control.  My phone is simply a more important device, which means I care more about how it works.

3. Apple hype – I am sort of annoyed by the Apple hype. Don’t get me wrong, I love many Apple products and own four of them (iPad, iPod touch gen 1, Macbook Pro, and MacMini hooked up to my TV).  They almost always tend to work.  However, so do things in the Cloud (see my review of Google CR-48).  No smartphone works really well without a connection to the Internet and the Cloud.  Apple makes beautifully designed gadgets but that does not make them inherently better. The hype is simply overblown.  This is the launch of a phone you have already seen on a network you may already use.  Sure, the network is ten times better than AT&T but this isn’t groundbreaking.  Really, why do you care?  Are you going to break your two year contract with your carrier to upgrade early or switch to Verizon?  Waste of money but go ahead.

4. Apps – Apple has the most apps by a good margin.  However, Android has a huge number of Apps, as well.  Every App I have needed, I can find.  There are a few that I would want that I cannot but this has not bothered me greatly.  The best apps do launch on Apple but, once again, how many apps do you need?  I am a power user and I am happy with Android.  Having the best and most recent apps (except for Google apps) is a big plus but not a game changer.

5. Keyboard & Swype – this isn’t a major reason since plenty of Android phones do not have physical keyboards.  However, slowly typing out messages on a virtual keyboard without any assistance is tough (even on a much larger iPad).  If you are on an Apple device, since Steve Jobs controls the market, you only have one keyboard to choose from — the stock one.  However, if you are on Android, you not only can choose a hardware keyboard (like I have) but you can also use different keyboards like Swype, which makes “typing” on a touchscreen much much faster.

In the end, I am happy that there is more competition in the smartphone market since it simply means better devices for all of us.  The lack of the iPhone on Verizon and other major US carriers has been a huge boon for Android, which, now that it is a viable and stable platform, creates even more competition.  However, remember, the Verizon iPhone, while great, is still just a closed-system beautifully designed Apple device.  It is tempting to want one but Android is at least just as good and offers plenty more hardware options.

Enjoy the insane news coverage tomorrow!

 

A few side notes/edits: 1. Verizon generally does have a slower but much more robust network.  If you prefer fewer dropped calls, go with Verizon. 2. AT&T is faster – I did a simple test this morning.  iPhone 4 with two bars of service vs Verizon Droid 2 Global with full bars of service: AT&T iPhone = 1.5Gbs up and 1Gbps down with a ~300ping.  Verizon Droid: 800Mbps up and 800 Mbps down with ~300 ping.  AT&T is faster.  Plus, I should add that you can talk and use the Internet at the same time on AT&T, which is sort of nice if you don’t really want to pay attention to your conversation!

Google CR-48 Chrome Computer review

I recently received Google’s Chrome OS computer, the CR-48. In one sentence, this is the future BUT we are already there (and just don’t know it).

Many of the reviews of the CR-48 discuss the hardware and the software’s shortcoming but from the perspective of a hardcore computer user.  I’ll do something groundbreakingly different (joke) – write a review for the rest of us.  By the “rest of us,” I mean people who spend 99% of their computing time already in the cloud.  They are likely using massively overpowered computers to check their email, Facebook page, and shop on Amazon.  It is likely that the only non-Internet apps you currently use are Microsoft office-type products.  Of course, via Google, Microsoft and others, you can do that in the “Cloud,” as well.

Since I have established that the large majority of users already spend most of their computer time within a web browser, I can commence with the review.

Software

The CR-48 runs a special version of Google’s Chrome web browser.  That is it.  While a somewhat jarring experience at first (since there is no “start” bar or application bar, Google, via a simple and professional intro FAQ shows you how to start using the computer.  At its very basic, you just open up your normal websites.  This is exactly the same as you would do when using any other computer.  You can open new tabs or new windows.  Right now, as an example, I have Gmail, Facebook, Pandora, Google Reader, Hotmail, Twitter, a search page, and WordPress open.  Were I open my home computer (Macbook Pro), I would frankly have all the same pages open and I would be doing the same thing in those pages.

The pages run well albeit a bit more slowly than on more powerful computers.  However, I have to assume that is because the processor is fairly weak (Atom).  I had some trouble with Hulu but YouTube (at least the HTML-5 videos) worked fine.  Flash is obviously an issue but I have read that is being worked on.  The apps that you can use are, in most cases, just a quick link to a webpage.  Not much there, sadly. Install an app from the Chromse store on your home computer Chrome browser and you will know what I mean.

Because the software is only a web browser, the computer is very fast to startup – essentially instant.  Of course, I do not think this is so special since I almost never shut down my MacPro and whenever I open back up the screen the computer is ready to go.  However, since the “hard drive” is actually flash memory drive, everything on that front is speedy.

A few issues: if you want to download things, that will be challenging.  You can download items but you don’t really have control over where they are stored or how they are used.  If you cannot open the file you downloaded within a browser, then you are out of luck.  As an example, I downloaded a Gmail produced zip of a number of .pdf files – Chrome would not open that file. However, if I downloaded each pdf separately, I could open and view them.  The same would go for just about any file.  Probably the largest issue that the Web/Cloud generation (who most of us are now) by living within Chrome would have to do with photos and other self-produced media.  You can connect your camera to the computer via USB but then save your files where? Picasa (from Google) works but is not ideal if you want to save all of your photos (since they only provide a relatively small amount of free storage space).  You would also have trouble with Chrome if you wanted to manage the content of your Apple produced products, which, sadly (and I believe for not much longer) need iTunes.

A few benefits: since you are already living in the Cloud, the CR-48 is just another way to embrace this more fully. No more viruses!!!  Since you essentially cannot download anything, you cannot have a virus (until they start infecting the browser directly).  However, since Chrome is constantly updated by Google, I assume (and hope) that any viri or other dangerous issues will be fixed almost immediately.  Again – you already live in the Cloud.  Why do you need all of your old files?  I dont touch any of them anymore except for my photos.  I still have not found a great, cheap way to view all my media online and therefore need a large hard drive.  However, once a good solution comes out (and there are some already), I could probably ditch the regular computer altogether.  A few more things you already do in the cloud – gaming (Cityville anyone), listening to music (I have gigs upon gigs of music but only listen to Pandora), movie watching (streaming from Netflix, Amazon and so forth…which do not fully work with the CR-48 but probably will in short order).  I even do my reading online – Instapaper, Kindle and multiple websites.

In other words, if you are anything like me, you need a keyboard, a screen, and a wifi connection to do 99% of your daily electronic tasks. End of story.  In that respect, CR-48 is ideal.  It takes out the clutter that you pay a ton for in any other computer and gives you just what you need. In fact, I would say that the CR-48 is a taste of the future albeit one that is already here since you are already spending your electronic life within a browser anyways. Within the next few years, I predict we will see many many more “computers that are simply dumb terminals/gateways to the Internet.”  In fact, what is most likely to happen is that you will connect your smartphone to a larger screen and keyboard and go from there via wifi or 4G.

 

Hardware

I think this is very very secondary to the idea of the CR-48 and what it shows for the future.  However, since the reading public loves to know about the hardware, below is a brief overview.

The matte black (with no markings) and slightly rubberized feel works well.  It is functional and seems like a high-quality build.  Mainly, you do not notice the computer itself – which is precisely the point.  This is about the Chrome software, not the computer technology.  The screen is decent and very usable.  The webcam doesnt seem great but what do you expect?!  The speaker is the same – usable, not great.

The keyboard is just like one of the new Macs — i.e. Chicle keys. I like it a lot (and in fact wrote this entire review using the CR-48.  The layout is very different (i.e. no CAPS) lock key but instead a search key. I could easily get used to that although I do sometimes like responding to long emails in-line via CAPS.  The biggest issue is the mousepad.  It is large.  It does not handle two different touches well.  As an example, when I am typing this, if my palm hits the mousepad, it moves the mouse and clicks somewhere else.  Then, if I try to move it back using my finger but my palm is still touching it, there is major interference and confusion. You also use the mousepad for clicking (the entire area is clickable) – I like the idea but that is a lot of finger touches that the software has difficulty separating out.

A few other notes: the battery life seems great.  It is rated at 8 hours and I feel confident it will hit that mark.  The computer is insanely quiet.  I hate noisy computer (i.e. loud fans) – this thing is silent.  Of course, it has no running parts, is running a low-power processor, and only runs one program so it should be quiet.  It is pretty light and not overly warm on my lap (I have been sitting on the couch for this writeup). My iPad is a bit annoying to hold up for long reading.  I could see myself using the CR-48 instead plus I can actually do my emails or IMs on it while reading.

Anyways – time for dinner and I think this covers things pretty well.  Enjoyable.  Great start Google and a great view of the future when we are all using our mobile phones to connect larger screens and keyboards to the Internet.  I’m looking forward to it.  The cloud is easier, safer (in my view), and always updated.

Blackberry vs Android

Android vs Blackberry

I used a Blackberry exclusively for two and a half years. It was my phone, my mobile office, and my mobile connection to the web.

As a person who loves mobile tech and pushing to see what it can do, I tried to push my blackberry (tour btw). Within the confines of its small app store and underpowered browser, it did well. As an email platform, it was terrific and its keyboard, to no one’s shock is the best out there. Auto text is still one of the best and simplest tools in the market. Why no one has copied it is beyond me but i miss it. Blackberry messenger is a great little app – so long as your friends also have blackberries (it is also a sticky social app). My old company required that, if we wanted mobile access to our email, we had to use a blackberry (and it was the only mobile system they would pay for their employees to use).

Despite all of the above, I couldn’t wait to start my new job where i could have a new mobile platform. Clearwell, in true silicon valley fashion (I.e. Where keeping your employees happy is considered a virtue and recruiting tool), said i could chose any phone or platform i wanted. Clearwell has a corporate account with verizon although i could have chosen any carrier (but then would have had to submit my bills each month).

On verizon, there are two smartphone operating systems – android and blackberry (and supposedly coming in 2011, iOs from apple). Unfortunately for rim (maker of blackberry), their os is brilliant at a few things (ie email) but cannot fully compete in any other smartphone manner (such as breadth of apps, interesting hardware, and functionality). Hence, my choice was easy – buy an android phone.

I chose the Droid 2, which has now been switched out for the Droid 2 Global (and I tested the Droid Pro – a potential “blackberry killer”) but stuck with the Droid 2 Global. After two months on android, generally I could not be happier. There are some major issues (such as battery life) but I can do so much more. I slightly miss blackberry messenger but threaded text messages do nearly the same thing. Touch screens are the future (or maybe now the present?). Rim, you should be embarrassed that it took you so long to launch the Blackberry Torch (on AT&T). Why was Palm the first one in the “modern” times to pul this off with the Pre (and Motorola following shortly thereafter with the Droid Pro)? What have you been developing with all those nearly free corporate dollars you pull in? Did you fail to see, years ago, how much people loved their treos (I.e. Touch screen plus keyboard  = great combo albeit one whose strength is fading.  Handspring figured this out before touchscreens were even in vogue)?

Anyways, rim, you are in a predicament. I think you know it. I hope you fix it. A quote from my very non-tech friend sums it up simply: “all of my bbm (blackberry messenger) friends are disappearing. I need a new phone. Should I buy one of those android things?” how do you think I answered?

P.s. Rim, your new tablet looks pretty sweet but the iPad is already well ensconced in corporate America. There is still a huge, untapped consumer market but they are no longer buying your phones so why would they buy your tablet?
P.p.s. Sorry for pouring more fuel on this fire. You guys have a great platform in some ways and i truly do hope that you can fix the issues before it is too late. Competition is good.

Moving to California

Apologies for the long absence from this blog but the past few months were a complete whirlwind.

As someone who loves technology and the change that it has the potential to bring to the world, I have always longed to move to Silicon Valley. It is the heart of technological innovation in America. The other major tech areas have their pluses and minuses (some I know from experience and others from what I have heard):
– NYC: “silicon alley” has a great alternative tech scene but it is a) small and b) ensconced in one of the largest and most dynamic cities in the country.
– Boston: Great scene but small. Focused on biotech.
– South Florida: very scattered tech scene (and I searched). There might be too many distractions in south beach. 🙂
– Northern Virginia tech corridor: I worked in “nova” for nearly three years in various positions – legal and Wimax strategy for Sprint/Nextel, corporate development (m&a) and project management for Neustar. I went to nearly all the major tech events hosted and, frankly, it is a small scene populated with companies mostly focused on government work, which is an absolutely great business plan but did not particularly interest me (and I don’t have a security clearance). Unless I went to highly focused events in dc proper, it was really difficult to meet young people looking to change the world. Instead, most events (especially in nova) are populated by more senior managers wearing suits. This is simply a very different mindset from what I knew happened in more dynamic tech cities. Maybe it is the government influence or simply the more conservative culture but I did not feel that it was super conducive to the mindset I was searching to find in tech. Sadly, the last great tech company to come out of nova is probably aol and that was over ten years ago. Heck, aol doesn’t even keep it’s headquarters in nova anymore. Note that livingsocial and opower are hopefully beginning to change the dynamics.

As part of any major life change, I believe it is important to gather as much information as possible. I spoke with numerous colleagues, friends, and mentors. The people I knew in San Francisco said: “if you want to do tech, move out here even if you do not have an offer. Companies in the bay area won’t want to hire you until you are out here since it highlights your commitment.” my mentors said, “you have a great job in nova, don’t make any drastic moves (like quitting) until you have secured a new job. It is much easier to be hired from a position of strength then if you are unemployed. Even if it was true that you quit, people will wonder about why you left and how you left. Plus, did you notice that unemployment is at nearly 10%?!” However, it was the words of an older and wiser technology startup CEO (based in dc) that stuck with me the most: “if you want to do banking, you go to NYC and those are the people you will spend time hanging out with. If you want to be in politics, you live in dc and those will be your friends. If you want to do tech, you move to San Francisco.” While this clearly oversimplifies the situation, it is generally true.

Despite trying pretty hard in dc, I had essentially no friends who worked directly in technology (except at my one company). While i absolutely love my friends in dc, they are either lawyers, working for NGOs, or in the government. As friends, they are amazing but as business colleagues, our worlds were different. I decided it was time try and make the move out West.

Note that I am the guy who, when i first visited silicon valley thought it was the coolest place on earth. My eyes were literally coming out of my head like a kid in a candy store. Or, put another way, silicon valley is like Disney world to me. Ive read and dreamed about it and now it was time to see what i could do to make it there.

I started looking for jobs and interviewing in earnest. I called everyone I knew who lived or knew people at companies in the valley. I was lucky and ended up having Google and Facebook fly me out to their headquarters for interviews. I had phone and all day in-person interviews with a number of other pretty awesome companies (they will remain nameless for now). However, the company that ended up as the best fit, which also happens to be a company that I now believe is one of the best companies in the valley that no one knows about is Clearwell Systems.

I’ll write more about Clearwell at a later date but suffice it to say that it quickky became apparent they were the best fit for me so I had to say no to a few other very interesting options. Clearwell moved fast and I appreciated that – from last phone interview to HQ visit and the CEO interview to offer, acceptance, giving notice to Neustar and moving to California to start in my new position was all of three weeks. Their speed was a breath of fresh air compared to my previous experiences.

Once i moved, almost everyone I have met is in tech. I know the CEOs of four awesome startups and meeting more all the time. None of them are over thirty (and note that, as nearly 30 myself, older and wiser executives are generally great.  But I also tend to find it pretty awesome that Silicon Valley financiers trust very very young people to run their own successful companies). Ive become friends with vcs at some major firms who are investing in game changing tech. I work at a company that is changing its field (e-discovery, btw).

In short, while leaving friends, family, and a great job is not easy, following a dream is what life is all about (versus doing what is comfortable). I am ecstatic with my decision and where i landed. With two months under my belt, I am slowly starting to have time for this blog and hope to update it more often. If you are ever in a similar life situaution or have questions about tech in sf, don’t hesitate to contact me.

P.s. Please forgive spelling errors and the lack of links – I am writing this on my iPad while in-flight! Google – thanks for the free wireless and delta, thanks for providing the wireless connection (and to gogo for building a business around wifi in the sky)!