Why ORD Camp is Awesome

In elementary school, I was part of a group that would take a 5+ hour bus trip to participate in a sleepover at Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, Florida. It was one of my favorite parts of every year – an opportunity to learn new things, meet interesting people, and generally nerd out. (They also had a wind machine which would imitate hurricane force winds – awesome)

Flying home from ORD Camp this weekend, I’m struck at how Zach and Fitz have re-created the same environment – a safe space where its cool to be curious and excited about new things – a chance to spend time with existing friends who you don’t get to see enough of, make new friends from nearby and far away, help out in conversations you can provide expertise, and learn about things you may have never even knew existed.  (And with late night games – it effectively ends up being a 36 hour sleepover.)

Even in -13 degree weather, ORD Camp made my trip to Chicago awesome. Thanks Zach and Fitz!



Themes to Watch in 2014

Written for Eric Jackson’s Predictions Post for Forbes, some themes to watch in 2014:

The Rise of Citizen Science

Humans have long participated in scientific research, but Moore’s Law and Open Source Communities have given individuals inexpensive access to powerful research tools for the first time.  Similar to other industries, when the cost of experimentation approaches zero, you spur individual creativity and open up whole new areas of opportunity.  Early success stories include Foldit, Galaxy Zoo, Phylo, and Zooniverse but companies like OpenROV and 3D Robotics or projects like HiveBio in Seattle show what could be possible in the short-term.

Commercial Open Source Grows Up

Open Source Software has come a far way from its roots with Richard Stallman and the Free Software Movement in 1983.  Individuals have long understood the technical merits and starting with the Open Sourcing of Netscape’s Browser in 1998, corporations have been opening up to the strategic and business value of Open Source too.  Over the past decade, we’ve watched more and more individuals build sustainable businesses around open source projects – early examples include Automattic, SugarCRM, Cloudera, Mulesoft, and Puppet Labs – and next year we’ll start to see more of them maturing into large independent enterprises.

Human DNA as Code

This is the opportunity created by a software-first approach to solving problems in human biology and patient care driven by the explosion of available medical data (through EMRs) and molecular data (through the rapidly declining costs of full genome sequencing and other tests.)  The market is lipe for rethinking as data finally comes online in a readable and maluable format.  Companies to watch include Moleculo, Counsyl, Ginger.io, and Practice Fusion.

Bugs & Bits: Smart Software in Health Data

In 1960, JCR Licklider released his seminal piece on intelligence amplification entitled “Human Computer Symbiosis” which outlined his vision for the future of computing – a world not where computers replaced humans – but rather a world where “men will set the goals, formulate the hypotheses, and determine the criteria” while “machines will do the routinize-able work that must be done to prepare the way for insights.”

The core thesis behind his paper was the idea of technology abstraction – or the belief that as we come to more fully understand a concept  – we can create rules-based infrastructure around it, use computers to automate the process, and then spend more time focusing on high-level problem solving.

Today, we’ve seen this technology already begin to reshape different industries – early examples include PayPal – whose fraud detection system is driven by machines searching for abnormalities in the data, which are surfaced, to human analysts for interpretation or Palantir who uses similar technology for catching criminals.

Today, there’s a similarly unique opportunity with human health data to ride the wave of declining cost curves in compute and medical testing and the resulting explosion in health and personal data to build next generation of smart software for the category.

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Some Thoughts on the Growing Drone Market

One of the most discussed technology sectors over the past few months has been drones – or more specifically autonomous flying vehicles designed for non-military purposes.

While the technology is not new, the rapid decline in costs driven mainly by cellphones and open source software is driving the creation of products for the enterprise and even the every day consumer.

Spending some tracking the market over the past few months, here’s how I think about framing the opportunity:

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5 Lessons Learned for Building Companies with Data (Or How to Build the Next Bloomberg)

The A.C. Nielsen Company was launched in 1923 with the idea of selling engineering performance surveys – giving birth to one of the world’s first data businesses.  Today, Nielsen is still one of the largest data monopolies in the world and continues to be the primary source of audience measurement and business intelligence research across the globe. 

What’s most interesting is that the way Nielsen (and other similar traditional data companies) tracks and aggregates data hasn’t changed significantly over the past few decades.  At its core, this system relies on a panel-based method – specifically recruiting a large set of people to participate, monitoring their activities, and then weighting the sample to be representative of the broader population.

The result is data that is skewed both by human error (read as lying) and sampling error (who really has time to take surveys or wants to get tracked by Nielsen), but it was the best we could do in a world with limited technology.

With the growth of cloud computing and the resulting decline in storage and compute costs, in combination with the increased availability of passively tracked data – either by inexpensive sensor or API – we’re entering an environment ripe for disruption of these old line data monopolies, which not only includes Nielsen but also other companies such as Bloomberg, Dun & Bradstreet, and NPD (originally “National Purchase Diary”).

While there were a few early companies who decreased the cost of data collection via crowd-sourcing (Euromonitor, Mintel, Data.com, et cetera), we’re at the front of the next wave of opportunity in the space.  Learning from the big winners of the past as well as some of our early investments in the space, these are the five lessons for the next generation data platform companies:

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Inspiration for the next wave of innovation (or the shifting influence of Star Trek to Harry Potter)

If the last wave of technology innovation was inspired by Star Trek, the next period will be driven by Harry Potter.

Thinking back to the start of the Stark Trek in the 1960s, the technology was science fiction and mainly focused on adding new devices to our lives.

The next wave is about taking technology and better integrating into our existing lives to make our lives easier.

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Spending time with the Splice and Namely teams in NYC

I was fortunate to spend time with the Splice and Namely teams last week on my trip to NYC.

Most of my interactions are with the Founding team members of a company – especially the company’s CEO – but I really enjoy meeting and spending time with the broader team for meals or a group activity.  Startups are truly a human experience and every company has an incredibly different culture – and by spending time with the broader group, you get a better idea for how the company is growing.

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