Archive for July, 2010

Dear Friends: I need your help and ask your advice. The product we’ve been building is a new way to approach travel. It’s got a simple interface which looks and works like a book. It’s a little like Myst, if you’re old enough to remember Myst, it has linking books. It has no scroll bars. It’s not quite a game, but it’s really a nice way to deal with information online. Anyway, we all felt that the right name for this product was Place Book. It is a book of places. It is for booking trips. It feels like a book. Your Place Book sits amongst other connected volumes: your Photo Book, Travel Book, Fitness Book, Eco Book and so on… the newest logos we came up with looked like this:

We felt the logo could give it a vaguely international flavor – it was for facilitating travel and exploration, after all. But there’s an issue of whether this name infringes on another companies trademark, and whether it would dilute the value of theirs and/or potentially confuse the public. I have heard the arguments, and I have my opinions; I think this is a cool and unique name and would be distinct – I also feel it is an “apt descriptor” as they say, of what we are.

But I’m too close to this matter, and the product we’re making is for the public –anyone who was reasonably frustrated with researching vacations, and booking trips online. I don’t want this name stuff to get in the way of the product, which is really all that matters.

So I want to know what you think. Should I drop the name? Do you think it infringes on other brand names?  Post or email your comments. I really want to know. Thanks.


This is how we roll…

Posted: July 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

People ask me all the time: “What’s it like at a start-up?”

I’ve only been in a few, so my experience is limited, but they are always idiosyncratic: each pretty unique. At Sonic Solutions there were four of us in a little apartment in the Sunset District in San Francisco. Thick cables ran down the hallway past the kitchen, connecting the workstation we set up (we had only one) to the Sun server in the first bedroom. I remember that the freezer was packed full of frozen burritos and we had day shifts and night shifts to keep the workstation running all the time. It was 1987.

It’s nicer today. Look at us all, each with a supercomputer on our laps… The days are unusually long, but it never quite feels like it because its so not-officish, it’s so homey… My dog Bodhi joined the team (advisor, mostly) which was a nice comic element to throw in the mix. And there we are, working away in the heat of the day. It wasn’t a meeting – but it was beautiful outside and we all found ourselves hanging out for awhile. We did notice that even sitting around each other working, we still Skyped back and forth; it was silent out there, except for the clicking of keys, but you could hear everyone’s voices in your head while typing. It reminded me of a Star Trek episode (the original seasons) where a race of telepathic beings were doing stuff to Kirk, et al. We were like those telepathic beings. Bodhi was Kirk.

It’s impossible to deny the tug of something new and hot. A few will resist simply because they don’t want to be lemmings; but usually folks like discovering something new and, particularly when it’s truly fun, news and adoption spread quickly. New is fun.

When I was raising money for Petroglyph Ceramic Lounge – kicking off the “paint your own ceramics” craze in the early ‘90s – we had a handful of profitable studios and we were looking for capital to expand. The venture community couldn’t argue with the obvious popularity and rapid growth of our retail locations, but they wanted to be convinced that painting ceramics wasn’t a FAD. In 1992 there were perhaps 2 places in the nation you could do this kind of activity; by 1995 there were a dozen and 1996 a hundred… but there was nothing I could say to convince them that in five years anyone would care. I couldn’t know.

Well, hindsight is 20/20 as they say, and today it’s clear that Petroglyph wasn’t just a fad, but was kicking off a TREND. There are thousands of PYOP (paint your own pottery) studios in the world, and sales today – almost 20 years later — are steady.

Games are very faddish activities. Remember Trivial Pursuit in Time Magazine in 1983? – a hot new import from Canada. Within a year it exploded. Years later, we see that the game was a fad, but it still was a game changer – and it not only galvanized a new industry of board games (in general) and trivia games (in particular), but it still sells today, even if not the “hot thing.” Same story for other gaming “game changers” – Myst (a global phenom, and catalyzing CD ROM games), You Don’t Know Jack, and so on and on. With little exception, games –like rock stars — are faddish. Do they ever have staying power? Sure–D&D, WoW… or they spawn great franchises like SimCity… but these are unusual exceptions in the game kingdom, no?

Which brings me to GPS-enabled location games. What can I say?  They’re games. They’re fun. They woke us up to the power of pervasive GPS and I’m certain they herald a new era, a new TREND, in consumer location-powered tools. But the games themselves? Foursquare? Gowalla? MyTown? and the new ones? I hate to be a wet blanket but I would tend to be cautious to claim victory here. Games get big fast. Frequent reports of their viral growth are important, but also the wrong hook to hang your hat on. These games might never break out of certain demographic sectors (people who are game players) and sooner or later the fans will almost certainly begin looking for the next fun thing. They simply may not have staying power any more than any great game. The leader in the pack may find ways to move the millions of players to their next fun game – but for most players in the field, I believe audiences will be fickle. Is there money to be made? Probably. Not that anyone is asking me, but if I were Booyah and the others, I would be trying to evolve a slate of location-based games and toys, and not put all my eggs in one game-basket as if users will play it indefinitely.

And as for PlaceBook, all I can say is that we’ll be launching soon, and frankly I’d be thrilled to have Foursquare’s 2 million users…

But I’ve watched fads and trends for decades… from the trends of nonlinear editing,  ceramic painting, mobile computing; to the wonderful fads of PacMan, Miatas and Lady Gaga.  I am aiming PlaceBook to anticipate the TREND and not chase the FAD. I can’t wait to see what happens…