About Erick Schonfeld

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Vinod Khosla: “A Company Becomes The People It Hires”

Last week at DEMO Mobile, Vinod Khosla came onstage to share his unique perspective on building startups, mobile, and more. We just put up the video of the entire discussion, which you can watch above.

Khosla is a contrarian thinker, which comes through in the interview. “The way to address new areas is not have a plan,” he argues, but rather “a plan to build a plan.”

Exploration and experimentation is so key for startups. He compares the early days of a startup to a driver on a roundabout. “It’s worth your while to go around in circles to explore what might be down each road,” he says. If you pick a road too early, “it will only lead to one place.” Founders need to take some time to figure out where they want to go.

“Other investors like revenue,” he says. “I like more data.”

Often, it is difficult for founders to see whether they are on the road to building a 50-million-dollar company or a one-billion-dollar company. “There is a huge difference between a 0-million-revenue company and a 0-billion-revenue company,” says Khosla. “And most of it is in attitude.”

The early days of a startup, before there are any revenues to speak of, often determines what kind of company it will become. “A company becomes the people it hires,” says Khosla. “If you don’t hire people for a billion-dollar company, you are not going to get there.”

Khosla is a big investor in mobile. “Mobile is great for collecting lots of data,” he notes. This is especially true in mobile health, an area where he is seeing an “explosion of activity.” During the Q&A, he pulled out an iPhone with a case that functions as a personal EKG and measured his own heartbeat. The fundamental change in healthcare, he says, is a transfer of “power from health systems and doctors to consumers. We love technology that makes the consumer the CEO of their own health.”

One area that has yet to be transformed by technology is TV. “I am disappointed that no new experience around TV watching has emerged. I am a little surprised. I would have thought something would have popped up.” I think it’s just a matter of time.

Mobile Is Just Scratching The Surface

scratching surfaceExcerpt:

It is hard to believe there are almost one million mobile apps for iOS alone, and another 500,000-plus for Android. Does the world really need that many apps? The answer is that we’ve barely scratched the surface. There is still so much to be done.

Think of it this way. The Internet hit its first million websites back in 1997. One million websites seemed like a huge number back then, but now it is well past half-a-billion total sites created (with 185 million of those active). Some of today’s biggest sites—Google, Facebook, Wikipedia—didn’t even exist back then.

And so it is true for mobile. The breakthrough products are only now beginning to surface. Mobile is having a deep impact not only in the way communicate, socialize, and play, but also in the way we work. It is taking computing into completely new areas and industries.

Preparing for DEMO Mobile on April 17 (register for tickets), I’ve been fortunate to meet and work with founders on the forefront of mobile product thinking. Here are a few trends I see playing out in mobile:

Read my predictions here.

Image credit: Ben Newton

Twitter Just Became Every Mobile App’s Best Friend

Open in FlickrTwitter is not just about 140 characters anymore. Ever since it introduced Twitter Cards, it’s been expanding the scope of a Tweet to include photos, videos, music, article extracts, and more. Today Twitter announced three new types of cards to display information about apps, products, and photo galleries, but it also added a couple of key features that will make Twitter a natural distribution platform for mobile apps. Developers will be able to add links at the bottom of their Twitter cards to get people to download their app directly from a mobile app store or deep link into their apps for those who already have them.

These new features are designed to drive app installs and deep linking into mobile apps. From Twitter’s Developer blog

One of the most important features in the new Cards is the ability to allow users to download your app (if the user doesn’t already have it installed), or deep-link into your own app (if the app is already installed on the user’s mobile device)

Forget about the desktop web for a second. This move is Twitter’s way of giving mobile apps a huge bear hug. Mobile apps already rely on Twitter and Facebook to share any photos, videos, articles, or other content found or produced inside those app. The problem is there is no return path to those apps, even for other people who are discovering those shared links (now multimedia cards) on mobile phones.

With download links, every time someone shares something on Twitter via a mobile app that implements these types of cards, all of their followers are just a click away from downloading the app—every time they share something. That is huge. The more people share from a particular app on Twitter, the more that app will be downloaded.

Every single mobile app developer is going to want to add these download links into their Twitter Cards. And if they haven’t implemented Twitter Cards yet, now they are going to have to think hard about why they aren’t jumping into the fray.

It’s not just about downloads. Twitter is taking a stab at one of the big problems with mobile apps: it’s hard to link between them. (Remember, the link structure of the web is what makes it so powerful). With deep linking, people can move seamlessly from their mobile Twitter stream right into the app being linked from. It could be that picture in Path, or that video in Takes.

Twitter’s embrace of mobile apps and its willingness to become a huge distribution platform for them will in turn help spice up the Twitter stream with all sorts of expandable cards. The more that Twitter Cards become the norm inside your stream, the more diverse and visually rich that stream will become. No doubt, advertisers will love that. Twitter is already testing different ad units and direct commerce in cards. Imagine Twitter Cards as ad units where the revenue is shared with the contributing mobile app or publisher. If Twitter gets this right, it could create a very lucrative revenue stream for both itself and the ecosystem of apps that publish into Twitter.
Twitter cards

A Different Take On Mobile Photography

Takes screenWhen you take a photo, what you are really trying to do is capture a moment. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you press the shutter a split second too late. So you take another photo, and another one. But the moment is gone, and you wish you had been shooting video for the last 60 seconds instead.

But video is hard. It takes forethought and camera skills, and you rarely get what you want in one shot—which means editing, which means work. It’s just easier to take a photo. And that is what most of us do. Admittedly, I take a fair amount of both—I have 4,094 photos on my phone, and 322 videos—yet my videos still only represent 7 percent of the moments captured on my camera roll.

What if making a good video was as easy as taking photos? That is the basic idea behind Takes, a new iPhone app that just launched today in the App Store. Takes is a new type of camera. You snap photos, and you end up with a tightly edited video. Swipe up and down to add filters. Swipe left and right to change the soundtrack, and you are done. Not only do you end up with a compelling video, you get to keep the photos as well.

Takes is a portfolio company of bMuse, a product studio where I am a partner. I am an adviser to the company, and have been using the app for the past few months. Instead of shooting random video clips on my phone, only to watch them once and abandon them forever in my camera roll, I am now actually making mini-movies I want to show other people. (Here’s one I took of a walk in the woods).  But don’t take my word for it. Download the app, and let us know what you think.

There are countless video apps out there. I’ve tried them all. Some are quite good, but none have become an habitual, go-to app. They require either too much work or produce videos that aren’t particularly inspiring.

Video is a hard problem, much harder than photos. With photos, you add a filter, some cropping, and almost anything looks good. Making good videos is much more complex—it’s all in the editing, the pacing, picking exactly which moments to show.

Takes is unique in that it lives at the intersection of photos and videos. Through its magic sauce, it translates the ease of taking photos into compelling, personal videos that you can share with anyone via Facebook, Twitter, or email.

It just works. Even the music engine cuts the songs dynamically to the length of each video. You never have to think about “making a video” because all you are doing is taking photos. The app groups them together by time. Hit the “Instant” button and your photos are transformed into a video. Or go into the gallery and select your own moments to put together.

But the photos don’t go away. Scrub through the video to see each individual photo. When you share a Take on Facebook or the web, viewers can toggle between the video and a gallery of the underlying photos. The pictures are literally moving.

Takes photo gallery

If Apple Doesn’t Reinvent TV, A Startup Will

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TV glassesTV is broken. We know this. We’ve known it for years. There are too many channels with too much crap. Browsing through the program guide consists of paging through 500 channels you never watch to get to the 20 sprinkled throughout that you do watch—the bundled business model of cable TV means that you can’t just pay for the channels you actually watch. The TV network is still not connected to other networks in any meaningful way (except when my phone rings and the caller ID shows up on my TV—at least Verizon got that one right). And the software that lets us interact and control our TVs is horribly designed. As Apple CEO Tim Cook told NBC last December:

When I go into my living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I have gone backwards in time by 20 to 30 years.

A lot of us feel the same way. We’ve been waiting for Apple to fix it. And waiting, and waiting, and waiting. But Apple doesn’t seem to be doing much about it, and may even be backing off its plans to attack the TV market directly.

Or maybe it will just keep whittling away at the media industry’s resolve through its current, and less controversial, incarnation of Apple TV—the $99 set-top box that brings movies and TV shows from the internet to your big-screen TV in the living room. At least the user interface is leaps and bounds better than the same old electronic program guide we’ve been stuck with on cable for the past 30 years.

program guide

When you combine the on-demand options of Apple TV with a subscription from Netflix or Hulu (available as apps within the same interface), there’s plenty to watch. All that’s missing is live sports and events like the Oscars, and some first-run TV shows. But if those were available a la carte or as subscriptions, it is not too hard to imagine cobbling together your own package of programming. Start with a Netflix subscription, add HBO Go, a few for your favorite sports, round it out with on-demand movie rentals, and you’d be all set. We are not there yet, but the world is moving in this direction.

Yet here’s the rub: Even if Apple succeeds in lining up all of the necessary content deals with media companies and comes out with a fully realized TV tomorrow, that would only be a first step. Fixing the user interface and making broadcast-quality video available over the internet is not reinventing TV. All that does is shift the distribution of content from cable and satellite networks to the internet. Shifting distribution is half the battle. Once you click play, it’s still the same experience.

In order to truly reinvent TV, you need to change both how video is created and consumed. Obviously, there is tons of experimentation on this front on YouTube and elsewhere on the web. But most of the innovations are in format and style.

All of that changes once your TV becomes a computer that can run apps. If you launch Apple TV today, it is pretty clear this is how Apple sees the world. You are not presented with a program guide. You are presented with a screen full of featured movies and content apps—Netflix, Hulu, MLB.com, YouTube.

AppleTV

Yet the apps on Apple TV today are all distribution apps. They mostly repackage video content from the internet and present it on your TV. But there is no reason why these TV apps couldn’t be more like the apps on your iPad, and take advantage of the computing power and connectivity of Apple TV. There is no reason why Apple couldn’t open up that screen to all sorts of TV apps that work in sync with iPads and iPhones in ways we can only begin to envision today.

What if a TV program was more than just a video that you passively watched? What if developers or content producers could insert code into video in compelling ways that fundamentally changed the experience of watching TV?

Yes, the history of interactive TV is a long list of failed experiments. But timing is everything. When I watch video on my iPad, I don’t want to just lean back and watch. I want to lean back and touch.

The internet is so captivating precisely because it is a two-way medium. TV would certainly be very different if it was two-way also instead of remaining a one-way, broadcast medium. Already you see hints of this when people use the internet as a back channel to communicate about what is happening on TV—Twitter and the Oscars or the Superbowl are perfect examples.

I am confident that in the near future we are going to see many apps that layer data onto video in captivating ways. Apple can help usher in these apps and truly reinvent TV by further opening up its AirPlay and other SDKs to developers—for instance, it could allow developers to build apps that throw video up on the big screen while keeping information and control elements on the second iPad or iPhone screens. Just as there are apps built specifically for the iPad, there could be a host of TV apps built specifically for Apple TV, both split-screen apps and dedicated apps.

The writing is on the wall. This is going to happen with or without Apple. If Apple doesn’t make it happen soon, a startup will.

It will start as software, and will look like an app. It will make the new TV experience work on a tablet first. But that may be enough to get the ball rolling. After all, the iPad today is a precursor of what TV will become tomorrow.

And if Apple TV (or Google TV or Xbox) doesn’t become a platform for these types of apps, there is always the internet itself. It’s an open platform, and every page doesn’t have to look like a garish newspaper layout. The best-designed sites already look more and more like beautiful magazines. One day, they will start to look more like TV, except they will maintain all the two-way interactivity of the web.

Vinod Khosla Is Coming To Demo Mobile. Are You?

Vinod headshotDEMO Mobile is really coming together. I am very happy to announce Vinod Khosla will be speaking, along with an awesome roster of judges. From a post I just put up on the DEMO Blog:

It is difficult to find true contrarians these days in Silicon Valley. But Vinod Khosla is one of those rare VCs willing to back seemingly crazy ideas that turn out to change the world before it is clear how important those businesses will be. These days he is knee-deep in mobile (sitting on the boards of Square and Jawbone, and an investor in early-stage mobile startups such as Cinemagr.am, Ginger.io, and Instacart). I am thrilled to announce Khosla will join us as a keynote speaker at DEMO Mobile in San Francisco on April 17. (Register to attend here. Today is the last day to buy tickets at the early-bird rate).

I am equally excited about the other speakers and judges we are lining up for DEMO Mobile. They include current Kleiner Perkins partner Chi-Hua Chien, SoftTech VC Jeff Clavier, RunKeeper founder Jason Jacobs, Pixel Qi founder Mary Lou Jepsen, Cowboy Ventures VC Aileen Lee, Google Ventures general partner and Android co-founder Rich Miner, and Firespotter Labs founder Craig Walker (whose last previous companies GrandCentral and Dialpad became Google Voice and Yahoo Voice, respectively).

DEMO Tour SF—Mobile Health, Enterprise, And Games

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GoldenGate bridge dusk

The DEMO Tour is back. Okay, it never really stopped. We just took a break for the holidays. In December, we went to Silicon Valley to find startups for DEMO Mobile, with stops at Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins. This time around we will cover both ends of the Peninsula with two tour dates in San Francisco and one in Santa Clara, Jan. 29-31.

While last time we saw some great mobile hardware, this time we are going to focus the Tour on mobile health, mobile enterprise, and mobile gaming products. Anyone working on a mobile product that is not yet launched can apply to come pitch their product in a private session with me and senior staff from each of the partner organizations hosting the events. All sessions are kept confidential. Founders will get candid feedback on their products and pitches, and greatly improve their chances of getting selected to be a finalist onstage at DEMO Mobile in April.

The Tour will take place at San Francisco startup accelerator Rock HealthCitrix Startup Accelerator in Santa Clara, and IDG Ventures located in the lovely Presidio. Mobile health, enterprise, and gaming products will get preference, but anyone with a new mobile product can apply even if it is in a different category. If it is good, we will make room for it. There are 10 slots for each day. Please only apply for one date. The application deadline is January 24.

Mobile Health: DEMO Mobile at Rock Health, San Francisco, CA—January 29, 2013—Apply for a meeting.

Mobile Enterprise: DEMO Moble at Citrix Startup Accelerator, Santa Clara, CA—January 30, 2013—Apply for a meeting.

Mobile Gaming: DEMO Mobile at IDG Ventures, San Francisco, CA—January 31, 2013—Apply for a meeting.

And we are also doing another DEMO Tour day in NYC on January 23 in conjunction with the NYC Mobile Meetup and Alley NYC. All mobile product categories are welcome. The deadline to apply is January 17 (which is also the last day to apply for a DEMO Mobile Scholarship).

DEMO Day at NYC Mobile/Alley NYC, New York, NY—January 23, 2013—Apply for a Meeting.

What are you waiting for? Go apply now.

Photo credit: Trey Ratcliff

Startups, Apply By 1/17 To Get DEMO Mobile Scholarships

We are in the midst of collecting application for DEMO Mobile and a big deadline is coming up. January 17 is the last day startups can apply for a scholarship. As I just wrote on the new DEMO blog, we want to give away lots of them:

My primary goal at DEMO is to pick only the very best products to launch and remove any barriers to making getting them onstage, including price. One of the big misconceptions about DEMO is that it costs an arm and a leg for every startup to participate. But that simply isn’t true. Any startup with less than $500,000 in funding can apply for a full scholarship. If selected to present at DEMO, scholarship winners pay nothing. For DEMO Mobile, the deadline to apply for scholarships is next week on January 17.

If you are a bootstrapped or seed-stage startup that wants to launch a mobile product at DEMO Mobile on April 17 in San Francisco, the time to apply is now. Is your product good enough to make the cut? Find out. It takes only 15 minutes to fill out the form.

Those who make it onstage as one of 20 finalists from hundreds of applications, will get to debut their product in front of an audience of investors, the tech press, and get personal feedback from our growing roster of judges such as Kleiner Perkins general partner Chi-Hua Chien, Runkeeper founder Jason Jacobs, and Google Ventures partner/Android co-founder Rich Miner.

Read more

Lessons From The DEMO Tour: Hardware Is The New Software

DEMO Tour deviceJust before the holidays, we wrapped up the first leg of our DEMO Tour. In partnership with some amazing VC firms—Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins in Silicon Valley and First Round Capital in New York City—the DEMO team met with about 30 mobile startups and developers vetted from more than 100 applicants for the Tour alone.

These were private sessions, and were every effective in surfacing early, high-quality candidates for DEMO Mobile in April. (The deadline for scholarships is January 15, so applynow). Partners at each VC firm, including Frank Chen and Ronny Conway at a16z, Chi-Hua Chien and EIR Stephanie Tilenius at Kleiner, and Chris Fralic and Howard Morgan at First Round (pictured below), sat in with us to provide feedback to the presenting companies.

We saw some terrific products targeting areas you would expect to be hotbeds of activity such as mobile media, commerce, communications, enterprise, and health. What surprised me the most, however, was the variety of hardware products. Now, I can’t go into too much details just yet on exactly what these products were (you will have to wait for them to launch or come to DEMO Mobile in April to find out). But they weren’t phones. They were creative applications wrapped in hardware.

Some of these were the types of products you might see on an Indiegogo or Kickstarter campaign. A few were really out there—in a good way. (Try to guess what the product being demoed in the photo above is supposed to do). The engineers and entrepreneurs with hardware products were the kind of people who don’t have the patience to wait for a bigger company to build the hardware they need. So they just did it themselves, and with not much more money than a typical software project would require.

Hardware is the new software. In an era when anyone can be a maker, manufacturing is like server capacity—it is available to every entrepreneur on the planet. If you can imagine it, you can build it. The new devices we saw took advantage of cheap sensors and standard computing parts to collect data from the real world in new ways or to create immersive experiences that blend the physical world with the digital. It was eye-opening, and I can’t wait to see more hardware products that solve real-world problems in astonishing ways.

If you are working on a new mobile device, or custom-built hardware that solves thorny problems, please apply to launch at DEMO Mobile. I am especially excited to find new consumer health devices and mobile enterprise hardware built for specific industries. Of course, software and mobile apps are always welcome as well.
DEMO Tour Fralic Morgan

Pitch DEMO at Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, Or First Round

Are you building a killer mobile product that is going to change the world? Do you want feedback on your pitch from some top VCs and me? In order to find the very best startups and products for DEMO Mobile in April (apply here), I am embarking on a short DEMO Tour next month in partnership with Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, and First Round Capital.

The concept is simple: we will take over a conference room at each VC firm and hear pitches from ten mobile startups. Each startup will then receive feedback on how to make their pitch better from both DEMO and a partner from the hosting VC firm. This is a terrific opportunity to meet some of the smartest investors in tech and strut your stuff in front of them. All meetings will be private and confidential. In addition to the feedback session, select participants will be invited to launch at DEMO Mobile in April.

In order to qualify for the DEMO Tour, you need to be working on a mobile product ready to launch next April. Mobile is defined rather broadly to include not just mobile apps for smartphones and tablets, but also devices, services that take advantage of mobile data, robotics, and new vehicles. Apply below for slots at each stop on the tour.