Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Social Connections: The Business of the Artist

Part two in a three-part series on social connections, this post takes a look at the developers, artists, writers, coders, techies and engineers who dream it, do it and then push it out into the world to either flourish or flounder.

It's a lot like giving birth, only not as messy. Joking aside, are we able to compare the birth of a baby to the birth of an idea?

I suppose if we can look at it from the perspective of an engineer, then maybe we can. 

That's because the birth of an idea is the spark that sets off a chain reaction to so many other possibilities and it's the potential behind those possibilities that drive the makers, the doers, the leaders, the designers and the storytellers. That which dreams are made, really. 

So let's salute a few dreamers today and each day we feel the need to remember the important role the developer plays in making technology emerge. 

Let's first salute the web developer tutorial community out there that works so hard to democratize the digital journey; you know, the ones who stay up late and rise really early to do what they do best; code. They often share their code for free; while their vision is only part of a bigger story they share with other artists.  This may be the single biggest difference between an angel investor and a developer; the way they share. An investors definition of a share is deeply tied to shareholder value. A developer's idea of sharing is to give it away so that the masses and the masters can make it better. 

These new age freedom fighters develop small -- and sometimes very complex -- snippets of code  that enrich the daily lives of the little people. They hack for the fun of it, build games that entertain, dashboards that help connect the dots, networks that aim to connect and apps that encourage online behavior day in, day out. Why? Because at their very core, it's part of who they are. And you know who I am talking about. You need not look too far to find an example of how a web developer changed the world one line of code at a time. Sometimes they call themselves "technocrats" and it's totally understandable. They build and regularly give it away for free, just for the art of it.

I wrote about Pinterest last year and maybe a few more times beyond that. I think Pinterest is an interesting case study in that it is easily examined from all three perspectives; the business, the artist and the user. Based on referral traffic and daily active users, Pinterest has quickly grown to be the world's third most popular social network, following Facebook and Twitter. In March, Wired ran an article about how Pinterest drives bigger baskets and traffic than other forms of traditional digital marketing. And yet they have been slow to develop a rich business strategy to collect brand marketing dollars on their platform. Why? Because they claim to not want to commodify people's passions. That shows they have (he)art.

But it's easy to talk about the potential monetization of Pinterest as a marketing platform because it was built on open source data by a developer who had one thing on his mind; to inspire. And if there is one thing people collectively adore and business universally takes advantage of, it's this: inspiration. At the very core of social connections, the emotion of inspiration is a very real goal. A gem, indeed. Inspiration is hope and when hope is on fire, it becomes action.

Read more about how Pinterest aims to inspire from the perspective of the artist developer at Designshack. Also, maybe check out the guide to the basics of jQuery fundamentals, if you want. If you want to learn more, there are myriad artists out there just waiting to break your fall. Help is out there, trust me. Better yet, trust the  the jQuery team at the jQuery foundation.

But if you want the real creator perspective, read the blog of John Resig. A Rochester Institute of Technology graduate, Resig is a true pioneer in the plight to democratize the internet. He is a computer programmer that is most often attributed to the creation of the jQuery JavaScript Library. He used to work for Mozilla and now works for the Khan Academy, whose mission is to provide a "free world-class education for anyone anywhere," according to the non-profit website and it's former hedge fund analyst Salman Khan. (Can you say serendipity?)

 "Write less, do more," is the slogan for jQuery.com because as a developer, Resig wanted to inspire people to do more. Of course, we all know what happened after that. Acquiring Punchfork, Livestar, top-notch engineer talent and user after glorious global user, means Pinterest could be looking at a funding round that takes the cake, starting with the letter b, as in billion, and probably more than a couple. So please don't worry about Pinterest. They will undoubtedly do more. Certainly it's future remains as unclear as it does telling. And the art of it is only part of the story. But it's a critical part that so often is overlooked in our daily search to find and make.

For more information and super fun photo images (like the one to the left) from BarCamp (the technocrats unconference at which jQuery was introduced back in 2006) visit any old BarCamp wiki or in the very least read more at Wikipedia. These little developer jam-sessions are where we can witness the birth of the next new big idea, the next VC-funded experiment and the next set of social solutions for the everyday users. It's quite impressive, really.

And remember the next time you have to call the help desk or the next time you see a maker-party/code fest happening in the back room of your local coffee shop or neighbors garage, don't stop to judge. Stop to salute. For it's the makers, the doers, the leaders, the designers and the storytellers that aim to inspire and so often get overlooked after the investors come in and the users show up.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Social Connections: the Business of the Business

One time I bought a designer vintage dress because I loved it, but more than that, it was a smashing good deal. I paid $80 for it and I could easily sell it on eBay for $200.

I know, that's not a huge return, but I feel pretty good about it. Plus, like I said, I really like the dress and the designer. So I'm a sucker for a feel-good-growth-investment opportunity.

I think Jim Breyer is too. Back in 2011, a Forbes writer interviewed Jim Breyer of Accel Partners, a global venture and growth equity firm whose specialty is identifying technology-focused companies with potential to define new categories. The Forbes writer, Nicole Perlroth, seemed a bit smitten by the man known for tracking down promising digital opportunities and then matching them up with proper suitors in the investment world. She called him the "comeback kid," which is ironic, considering he works for Accel Partners; founded by Arthur Patterson and Jim Schwartz in 1983.

The real ironic part is that back in 2005, the boyishly handsome, soft smiling blue eyed Jim Breyer (Nicole's words, not mine) was struggling. His company, Accel lost some serious funding opportunities and turned to a bold move of investing $12.2 millions on "a website run by a college dropout,"said Bloomberg's Ari Levy. Apparently, Breyer saw potential in the vintage dress social network and wanted to see it flourish. I'm sure he was a bit smitten by their value prop as well. It's well believed that Accel's investment in the early Facebook business may in fact be the biggest return on investment ever for a venture firm. That's pretty awesome. And best of all, it's a story of human success. As people, we love that shit.

To date, Accel Partners has grown it's portfolio to be $9.6 billion in assets under management, according to a recent article in WSJ that detailed another Accel-backed mobile technology venture, Pixate, a free agile development mobile platform for developers. Other successful investments include Brightcove, Bonobos, Responsys, Groupon, AdMob, Dropbox, Glam Media, Spotify, Etsy, Angry Birds, Kayak, Walmart.com and many more. 

Breyer himself is worth approximately $1.2 billion, according to Forbes, and he has been named as one of the most influential minds in tech. He also decided to step down from the boards at Walmart, Dell and Facebook earlier this year. No real reports have detailed his next bold move, but I for one, hope it involves rest, relaxation, family and a little dose of reality. Maybe finally wearing that vintage dress for a dance or two. (Me, not him. Not that there is anything wrong with that...) The fast paced world of tech and the neck-break speed VC's need to maintain makes for a difficult human perspective, one would imagine. And there doesn't seem to be a slow in the scene along the digital journey.  

Why just yesterday, Ryan Holmes, founder of Hootsuit, sent me a Linkedin note about his company's latest news. After acquiring it's biggest competitor last year (Seesmic), it seems Hootsuit may have a trick up it's digital sleeve. Watch out TweetDeck and all your Twitter wonder you are working on. A partner in the deal, Accel joined up with Insight Venture Partners and OMERS Ventures by dropping a record-setting investment of $165 million in Ryan's social relationship -- otherwise known as social media management -- platform. (It is very nice, btw.) You can read more at the company's blog.  You can check out all the staffers smiles below. 

It's another digitally interesting story of human success, really. The most interesting part to me, of course, is the users who use these technologies, the engineers who create and the investors who fund it all. Congratulations Pixate, team Hootsuit and Jim Breyer. May your contributions make it easier and better to enjoy life through connecting, including a little dancing now and then.