Friday, February 27, 2009

An Information and Data Integrity Cluster?

I was given the chance to present to the City of Tacoma's Economic Development Committee this week and I was happy to do so. Others presenting included Janine Terrano of Topia Technologies and Gary Penley of Sagem Morpho. The topic was the Information Technology and Software sectors in the South Puget Sound and the discussion was centered on our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in those sectors. Also included were comments on short and long term opportunities and a request for suggestions on ways that the city could support the economic climate and growth opportunities for companies here and wanting to move or establish themselves here.

Both Janine and Gary made great comments and suggestions, and all agreed that one of the strengths of our South Sound region is that it truly has become a place where people would want to come to live and work.

I would like to mention two things that came up in the conversation here, and perhaps address others later.

At lot of folks in the South Sound and the state have not heard of many of the companies that do business here. There are plenty, but no one has accused us of having a critical mass that points to a thriving technology community. One of the reasons is that many if not most of these companies do not produce consumer products or solutions, and many do not engage in any business to business sales. What that means is that there is very little advertising or media generated that the general population would run across.

Take the two fine individuals who were with me during that meeting. Sagem Morpho is the an industry leader in multi biometric identification systems not just here in the US but worldwide. Topia Technologies has provided solutions not just to the FAA but to the Department of Homeland Security and to Army Intelligence and security.

Prepared Response provides first responder software and solutions.

NewTech does validation and testing on software and systems for the Armed forces.

Vadium Technology provides secure encryption solutions.

Are you seeing a pattern?

Internet Identity provides anti-phishing solutions to the enterprise.

Avue Technology works on enterprise human resource management solutions for the federal government.

OK, I'll stop.

The Grey Hat group at the Institute of Technology is one of the most active student groups with several years of competition in national cyber security and national defense exercises.

There are two campuses here that are designated Centers of Excellence in Information Assurance and Cybersecurity.

OK, OK, that is it I promise.

So what does that mean? We have an identifiable cluster here. But if no one knows about it, then how do we draw others from the industry here? The companies mentioned do their business and sales with the federal government, state and municipal organizations and departments.

They could probably benefit from pooled resources, marketing to the cluster from a regional standpoint and attracting the kind of workforce they need. We are certainly graduating students applicable to the field, but they need seasoned folks as well.

They also could use some more networking opportunities.

Soon I will be posting about four networking events that will be promoted and provided throughout the next twelve months. One is likely familiar to many in Tacoma, but perhaps not familiar enough. It is the South Sound Technology Conference and it will be held either mid November or the first week of December.

The second will likely be an attempt to pull off a Startup Weekend here in South Puget Sound. The third will center around technology and energy systems/solutions.

The fourth, and not necessarily in that order, will be a South Puget Sound Tech Summit that will call these companies and others together to try and find ways in which we can leverage the commonalities that drive development, sales and workforce availability for what could be identified as an Information and Data Integrity Cluster.

comments and questions?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A South Sound Tech Universe?

This Sunday I am speaking at the "6th Annual Lecture" at the Bremer Student Center on the Olympic College, Bremerton Campus. The topic is on how technology can fuel economic growth given favorable conditions. Those conditions revolve around an educated and experienced workforce, invention/innovation and funding.

I am heading up to Seattle today to pick up a visual aid that I will be bringing with me. A poster put out by the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) which is a visual history of the Puget Sound technology universe.

A synopsis:

The Puget Sound is home to thousands of thriving technology companies in a variety of sectors including Software, Aerospace, Digital Media, Medical Devices, Telecommunications, Webservices, and more.

In a joint project with Virginia Tech and Seattle University, the WTIA has created a poster which illustrates a portion of the industry by focusing on the movement of founders from six key institutions along with venture capitalists, supporting institutions, and many of the larger technology businesses located in the region.

The question I have, is how many companies or institutions from the South Sound are represented? Or a better question might be, can this Tech Universe expand into the South Sound? We have a nice cluster of companies here, but there are a lack of start ups on a comparative basis. It could be argued that it is an unfair comparison, apples to oranges, and there is truth to that. But we are only twenty miles out of the nucleus of activity.

But there are new advantages and opportunities here that suggest progress can be made in expanding our own universe.

Our workforce educated in Computer Science, Computer Engineering and Technology related degrees is increasing.

We have an organized angel group in the Tacoma Angel Network that was established only three years ago.

We have inventive, original and innovative artists, marketers, business people and community leaders.

Given the job losses in the economic down turn, there might be a number of people who need to create jobs for themselves by setting up their own businesses.

The funding aspect to seed things is still a major issue, but it still seems an opportune time.

For a great inventory of Tacoma and South Sound tech companies, refer to Jamie's posting at There is no reason this list shouldn't grow.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Lively a Ghost Town? How to Fail Fast.

Google announced a short while back that it was discontinuing Lively, a virtual world in the mold of a Second Life. It also discontinued Notebook, a note taking tool for web sites you have visiting; Catalog Search, for searching catalogs; Jaiku, a Twitterlike product and Dodgeball, a cellphone service.

That is a lot of products being shelved. (though I read that Jaiku is becoming open source)

One of the maxims that we discuss in the Entrepreneurship class is "How to Fail Fast". It is a tricky concept because while the one hand you are discussing the virtues of admitting when something is not working and moving on to other potential successes, you also run up against Thomas Edison who said ,“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Seattle is known for it's large number of start up companies. Back in November of 2007 Seattle 2.0 listed a startling 200+ start up company names. Today their list of start up companies sits at 343 companies and sites. So if you here that Seattle has the largest number of failed start ups, you can understand why. It is a numbers game.

Personally I hate the word "fail", as something that has found enough interest to launch and operated for any length provided value during that run.

So the importance of failing fast is to recognize when something will never achieve the value that you had planned for it, or that the continued operation and dedication to the project will never yield a value equal to the cost. That can be a direct cost or an opportunity cost to try something else.

Google is a very entrepreneurial place, and it allows it's developers to dedicate 20% of their time to projects and products of their own interest (and I would imagine invention).

Therefore, like a microcosm of Seattle itself, it likely has many internal start ups and therefore many "stop ups" as well. With Lively I am a bit surprised because they put a lot into it's launch and it has been operating now for about 5 months. Could continued support have allowed it to gain critical mass? Was their no practical revenue stream on the far horizon? I would have to guess "no in both cases.

More on the end of several Google projects as well as Lively's demise.

The New York Times

Search Engine Land

My introductory post on Lively.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Jott as a Licensing Play with TSheets

A while back I wrote about Jott, a voice to text service that allows consumers to send emails and text messages, set reminders, organize lists, and post to web services with their voice. I used it to send status updates to Twitter and one reader commented that he used it right before bed to record those last minute thoughts and ideas that occur at bedtime (sort of a night stand notepad). Best of all it was free and advertising supported.

I liked the service and used it, until the day the message on the other end of the line ended our relationship. "Started Feb 2nd Jott will no longer continue its free service".


I certainly didn't begrudge the company as I do really like their product. It is just that I personally wasn't using it enough, either frequently or practically, to justify the examination of cost and benefit. On the other hand, I also imagine that it more than could pay for itself if it saved just one brilliant idea from being lost to sleep, as with the night table user.

The company itself explained it well in their FAQ

Why can’t you pay for the free service with advertising, which was the plan?

It’s a great question – in short, the model is not viable right now. This is true for several reasons: 1) it would have required plastering the product with so much advertising that we’d ruin the experience; 2) ads are a terrible fit for important features like email delivery, Jott Links, and Jotts to Others; and 3) all indications are that advertising rates are going to see an even bigger hit in the next year. We don’t want to bet the company, and the utility that tens of thousands of you pay for, on a model that is not sustainable right now.

No arguing with that. Any company, online newspapers, blogs, informational sites etc. that have counted on advertising dollar are being forced to rethink and retool.

Then on Wednesday morning I was having breakfast with some folks from the city and the Tacoma Angel Network and a guest at the table was asked about some of his investments. He mentioned a new bio based retaining wall company, which was interesting, and a Time Sheet software company. I wanted to know what made the second company, called TSheets, any different than a web services based time tracking solution, and he mentioned two things immediately.

I am not certain if the first was still being licensed so I won't say but the second definitely caught my attention. He mentioned that they had integrated with a solution provided by Jott in order to make entries easy utilizing remote voice recognition. This was the first time someone other than myself had brought Jott up in a conversation so I was interested. I visited the TSheets site, and here is a sampling from their About page.

TSheets provides Time Tracking and personal productivity tools to the small to medium sized business owner. Clients from around the globe benefit from using TSheets to manage and maintain accurate time keeping records.

The TSheets Philosophy: Make the life of the small business owner simpler, easier, and more productive.

The TSheets Audacious Goal: Empower the world's business owners every day.

Looking around at their feature set, along with the iPhone TSheets Touch feature was the Jott connection.

Tracking Time just got even easier with fewer buttons to push. TSheets is the first mobile time tracking software package to integrate with, a powerful voice recognition software platform.

Nice, in that it doesn't rely solely on consumer based revenue to fuel the company. Good luck to both companies in weathering the current economic storm. Given they are both productivity solutions I think they are positioned well.

Also, since our phone break up, I have looked at the various payment plans Jott has, and they seem pretty reasonable.

Jott is a Seattle based company whose solution launched in late 2006. TSheets was founded in 2006 by Matt Rissell and Brandon Zehm and is based just out of Boise, in Meridian, Idaho

Friday, February 6, 2009

A "Glorious" Evening of Wonderfully Wretched Singing

Monte Python would announce it as "And now for something completely different" from the Tacoma Musical Playhouse. I knew it was a Northwest premiere and had an incredible run in London, and I also knew it was based on a true story, but in general I didn't know what to expect from "Glorious" by playwright Peter Quilter. Jon Douglas Rake, the managing artistic director at the TMP, had described the show to me not as a musical, but a play with music. However I did not know what that meant.

What it meant was that there wasn't the usual big song and dance numbers like you might find in most of the Main Stage shows at the theater. Oh, there was music that was sprinkled throughout, but with the exception of one Cole Porter tune, it was not the caliber you would expect from the talented musicians that you find on stage there. Especially from Sharry O'Hare, who has such a strong, beautiful voice and plays the shows lead, Florence Foster Jenkins. It was bad. I mean really bad. Wonderfully, rib ticklingly and finally hilariously bad. As I left the theater after having thoroughly enjoyed the performances, I mentioned to her with high praise "it is hard enough for a singer to sing bad, but you sing bad so well."

And that is the point. The show is about a woman whose family has cut her off in order to keep her from the thing that she most enjoys, singing and performing, due to her generous lack of talent. But when she inherits her families fortune, she spends the rest of her life doing what she loves; putting on shows, recording records and playing to sometimes raucous crowds.

She has admirers such as Cole Porter and Tallulah Bankhead and many different ladies auxiliaries. But why? Though it is left to you to decide, I believe it is because she truly loves music and wants to share that love of music. She is living her dream with gusto and critics be damned. It is fortuitous that she is so awful that her concerts actually provide perverse enjoyment to those who attend.

And to those in the real audience as well. Because there are few actors in the cast, only six, and the songs don't come every ten minutes, it builds like a play should, introducing you to the characters and letting you get to know them:

* The initially reluctant piano accompanist Cosme McMoon (a very funny Josh Anderson making his TMP debut) whose slow turn from horror to admiration is touching.

* The non-English speaking maid, Maria (Maria Valenzuela) whose expressions alone communicate all you need to know, but with the translations provided, makes for very entertaining reading.

* The British lady killer, unsuccessful actor, friend and confidant St. Clair Bayfield (Tom Birkeland).

* Her life long fan and friend Dorothy (Kat Dollarhide).

* Her not a fan at all, Mrs. Verrinder-Gedge (Jill Goodman).

I enjoy watching actors who I have worked with on stage. I was in "My Fair Lady" with Tom, "Kiss Me Kate" with Maria, and recently "The Phantom Tollbooth" with Jill. I have known Kat for many years and have admired Sharry in other productions.

It is a testament to the performers that by the end of the show I cared about the characters without giving thought to the actors portraying them.

If Florence Foster Jenkins were alive today I could easily imagine myself going to her show and truly enjoying the gaudy costumes, the pretension of fine art and the gusto with which that art was so innocently dismantled. Sharry O'Hare does it wonderfully badly so well.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

SiteCrafting Socializing

Part of what I love about my job is the opportunity to visit technology companies in and around the South Sound, as well as the state. One day I might visit out to Pacific Northwest National Labs (PNNL), another day a field trip to Microsoft or Intel Dupont.

But what I truly enjoy is meeting up with the downtown folks like Sagem Morpho, Topia, AvueTech and, as I did yesterday, SiteCrafting.

Kevin Freitas sent out a an invite to the "SiteCrafting Interact" event via Facebook and I RSVP'd through the social network. There are several reasons I wanted to go. The last two times I visited SiteCrafting was when they were off of 711 St.Helens, then at their location near Fireman's Park. They continued to grow and I wanted to see the new digs (which were not really new, just new to me). A second reason was that I currently am faculty sponsor for a CSS student working at the company who is getting course credit for Directed Reading materials pertinent to one of his projects. I also was interested in their Interact format and wanted to check out some of their recent work. The bonus of course was the good company of others who decided to attend the late afternoon event.

The interact format for SiteCrafting is a once a month event, and the Feb 4th gathering was their third month. In an earlier format, they offered brown bad seminars and invited the public in a noontime setting. The new format offers employees a chance to have a little celebration of their work alongside some of the clients they provided the work, as well as mingle with members of the community.

It was a good mix of people and from the looks of things ran around a fifty/fifty to sixty/forty mix of non employees to employees. Monitors showcasing the recent work and food and beverages were laid out nicely in several stations with an excellent selection of finger foods and drinks. That may have been in part because one of the showcased sites was for South Sound Eats, which provided some wine samples and no doubt influenced some of the selections. Kris Blondin, South Sound Eats Sales and Marketing Director and former owner of Vin Grotto was there along with the web sites twin bloggers, Denise LaCaille and Melissa LaCaille. New sites for Primo Grill and CrownBar were also on view.

President for Sitecrafting, Brian Forth was an excellent host and was obviously proud of the company and its employees. This website design and application company continues to grow and has even started to push its current digs for space. Where other companies might be cutting back, they are in the process of adding one more to their team.

As slides in the back theater room changed from one site to another, music selections were provided up front by members of the company. Add to the mix conversation and catching up with Jessica Corey-Butler, always a kick, and former student, current tech consultant Andrew Becherer and the event was quite enjoyable.

Hopefully you have seen the press release from the EDB about Infoblox renewing its lease in Tacoma for another six years. Growing from sixty...