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

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

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.

Introducing DEMO Mobile

If there is one fundamental shift sweeping over the technology industry, it is the current transition to mobile computing. The opportunity is immense. Apple embraced the transition early and was rewarded handsomely for it. Google also sees it. Facebook sees it. Paypal sees it. Even Yahoo sees it. But will the revolution be led from above or come from below?

My bet is on a startup. Chances are the next major technology company to join the ranks of Apple, Google, and Facebook will be a mobile-first company. And chances are that it is just now being born, which is why for my first DEMO event I am focusing on mobile. If you are a founder or product leader with a world-changing mobile product ready to launch next April 17, I encourage you to apply to DEMO Mobile. The application deadline is February 15, 2013. Scholarships are available for startups with $500,000 or less in funding. Those who want to be considered for a scholarship must apply by January 17.

Mobile marks a new era in how products and companies are built. If you are a mobile product person—a founder, designer, or product manager—this conference is for you. If you are an investor looking for the next great mobile startups, they will be onstage at DEMO Mobile. And if you are a product leader at an established company working on a stunning new mobile product, DEMO Mobile is the place to launch.

DEMO Mobile will be my first event as executive producer of DEMO. It will be a little different than most recent DEMOs. This will be a one-day conference on a single topic: mobile. The bar to get in will be higher. Only 25-30 companies will be invited to present onstage, about a third less than at a normal DEMO. And it will take place in a new location, at San Francisco’s Mission Bay Conference Center.

Some things I won’t change. The essence of DEMO will remain: there will be a laser-focus on great products and the people who create them. DEMO is a big show-and-tell. To get into DEMO Mobile you really need to be able to show us something new, and open people’s eyes to the possibilities of the post-PC world. Surprise us or delight us. It’s that simple.

We are looking for big ideas and beautiful design in the selection process: mobile apps for smartphones and tablets that break new ground and address new industries, novel mobile devices, wearable computers, robotics, and even vehicles will be considered. We are defining mobile rather broadly. It includes both hardware and software, and can target both the consumer or the enterprise.

One reason mobile is so exciting is that it brings the transformative power of software into the real world away from our desktops. While I love all the games, social networking, communications, media, and information apps built specifically for mobile, I suspect the biggest impact will be in areas just now coming into their own such as mobile commerce, health, education, transportation, workforce management, productivity, or mobile data. But surprise us. The best products get in.

The great thing about DEMO, besides all the attention your startup will receive from investors and the media, is that it a hard deadline by which you need to have a working product. For many startups and product teams, the deadline is a powerful forcing function of that gets them into the market quicker than they would otherwise. For that reason alone, if you are working on a killer mobile product, you should apply.

Show Me Your Best DEMO

Ever since I left TechCrunch six months ago, people have been asking me, “What’s next?” I’ve been purposefully silent about most of my activities, but today I can share some news. Beginning next month, I will become the new executive producer of DEMO, the original product launch conference.

Yes, I know. I used to compete with DEMO. But it is all good. Competition makes everyone stronger. It is good for events, and it is even better for products. I’ve always enjoyed discovering new technology products and startups, and bringing them to a wider audience. Now I will do everything I can to make DEMO the place where the best product ideas compete for attention.

Today we are witnessing a Cambrian explosion of startups. It’s never been easier or cheaper to launch a technology product. But it’s also never been a noisier or more crowded environment. There is more value than ever in selecting, culling, and showcasing the most promising products and startups. It is very much an editor’s job, which is how I will approach my role at DEMO.

But I will also be approaching it from a product perspective. Over the past few months, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for what it takes to turn a set of wireframes into living code by rolling up my sleeves at bMuse, a New York City product incubator where I am also now a partner. I will continue to work there on a variety of projects, including my own—more details on that in a future post. DEMO and bMuse are not affiliated. My only point is that building products is very different from writing about them. Both are important (I will also continue to write here and contribute articles at Techonomy), but some things you can only learn by doing yourself.

Under my watch, DEMO will be laser-focused on launching the best products, period. It won’t be about celebrities. It won’t be about tech news. The products are the celebrities as far as I’m concerned. I don’t care if they come from startups or established companies. If you are working on a killer product that will launch next year, I want to see it. Show me your best DEMO and I’ll put you on stage. (I can be reached via email at producer@demo.com or erickschonfeld [at] gmail).

The first event I produce will be next spring, but I will attend DEMO this October to observe. DEMO producer and VentureBeat editor-in-chief Matt Marshall (who first told me about the opening and introduced me to DEMO general manager Neal Silverman a few months ago) has done a great job at introducing some much-needed changes over the past three years. For instance, it is a lot more startup-friendly. There are now 20 slots for early-stage startups who get in for free if they are accepted, as well as other scholarship programs.

But the startup world is changing quickly, and DEMO needs to keep pace. It used to be that the best startups all flowed through the venture capital system. Now other avenues are opening up. There are so many incubators and accelerators (Y Combinator, TechStars, 500 Startups), alternative funding from networks like AngelList, and crowdfunding is also unleashing a whole new wave of products.

I will consider any change that can make DEMO better. Nothing is sacred: format, on-stage sessions, even how applicants are vetted. Great ideas can come from anywhere. I will personally travel around the world to find the best products and startups. If you have ideas for how I can make DEMO the best product launch platform, please send me an email or tell me in comments.