Entrepreneurship: Survival & Patience

I’ve attended LeWeb in Paris since the second edition back in 2005 – and year after year you get to reconnect with amazing people and update on their businesses.
This year I was impressed by 2 of those entrepreneurs who launched their startup over 10 years ago, and kept it going despite the ups an downs, pivoted a few times until they finally got this year in a position where their product is a  perfect fit for the market and their business is scaling at exponential speed. 

In Techcrunch or other startup savvy media you can often read incredible stories about startups with immediate blazing growth success and glory – all those stories are inspiring and powerful drivers for wannabe entrepreneurs willing to try out their deas.
It’s important to keep in mind that very often those stories are reinterpretation of the past hiding out the long times of iteration, doubts, slow take offs … until the acceleration that successful startups will experience happens.

When I talk about entrepreneurship I usually say that a start-up story will take at least 10 years – and that as an etrepreneur your job is to be ready to captain the boat through that time.

Even in tough times it’s crucial for an entrepreneur to keep in mind that his #1 obtective is survival – if he gives up and the project dies everything is lost. Wether it means downsizing drastically, pivoting or accepting a round at low valuation – everything works as long as the boat stays afloat. Just like the cliffhanger on the illustration of this post – loose grip and you’re dead.

#NEVERGIVEUP

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Citizen science project: Cosmic ray particle tracking

I am passionate about citizen science. I believe that crowdsoucing data and leveraging on a communauty not only helps understanding patterns and behaviors, but whenever possible we need to be able to tap on the crowd to gather data and support scientific purposes.
i believe that people are only waiting for oportunities to get involved to make the world a better place – and simple actions brought at scale can have massive impacts.

We did exactly that through Diveboard where species occurences identified by divers wordwide are published as open data for scientists to use in their research hence giving them an access to real-time occurence data at scale, which they could only be dreaming of before Diveboard.

Scientists from the University of California have just announced an incredible citizen science project “CRAYFIS” which stands for Cosmic Rays Found in Smartphones.
Turns out your smartphone camera may be sensitive to those cosmic rays. So they built an app to use your phone as a detector for those rays and evaluate their flow over earth – at the citizen science scale.
Currently in beta, you can sign up (I did) and take part in that amazing initiative.

 

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From Cybernetics to Discovery

Discovery has become one of our main area of interest at Diveboard. Of course discovery isn’t a new idea – helping someone stumble onto something that will get him excited has been on the mind of every marketer forever.
What has changed greatly though is the means we can leverage on to get there.

Discovery actually dates back from the 50s as a part of Cybernetics. For those like me who were born after that discipline stopped being taught, we may have a wrong idea about what cybernetics is. Cybernetics has little to do with bionic lungs and enhanced humans, its actually defined by wikipedia as :

Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems, their structures, constraints, and possibilities. (…) Concepts studied by cyberneticists (or, as some prefer, cyberneticians) include, but are not limited to: learning, cognition, adaptation, social control, emergence, communication, efficiency, efficacy, and connectivity

This basically relies on the concept of the feedback loop which enables a system to adjust to its environment. Here’s a simple example of such loops:

Internet really exploded when proper search got in. The basic idea of search is simple: you need to be able to express what you are seeking and the algorithm will try to “understand” it and find in its database a match. Basic search is easy, but as Google and others have demonstrated over the years understanding a query properly can be a huge help in finding the most relevent information – this is called as the Semantic Web.
This really makes a lot of difference when it comes to giving you the answer vs finding a relevant page. 
For example let’s say you’re looking for the best New York marathon time.
wolfram’s answer versus google‘s are making that difference very clear.

But as search hits a hard limit – since there’s as much you can understand from a query – or at least as the cost of getting a little bit better has raised exponentially, the whole discovery space is getting momentum.

Discovery tries to read the user’s mind, understand it’s behavior, learn from it and try to get to the user contents related to its research but without limiting  itself to the keywords he may have typed. Discovery is about digging relevant stuff in a given space.

The first notable forays  where done by such like Amazon using what is now called “Collaborative filtering” techniques. It’s basically a “people who liked this also liked those”-type of algorithm. This happened at the turn of the century and this simple methods have given spectacular results.

Today, as we learn to aggregate manage big data, new doors are opening up. Numerous research projects, and some implementations are starting to bring back those old ideas from the cybernetics age to build pesonalized feedback loops for each of us. 
By testing us with stimuli and watching us react (click/scroll…) the system can learn a lot about our affinity to a subject and hence profile us and serve us with more relevant content that will be appealing to us.

In the very specific case of Diveboard, that would mean understanding where a scuba divers wants to go next (and why) and what he expects to be doing there : is he more excited about big fish, caves… does he start considering taking a training course to level up … all those things are already in the system and would bring a lot of value by directly pointing a user to the elements that matter to him instead of flooding him in an endless listing of stuff he wouldn’t care about or -worse- forcing him into formalizing what he’s searching for, provided he’d know that himself.

Since we’re spending a lot of time on this subject I’ll follow up on this note on some analysis we’ve done about how Discovery is currenlty implemented on the web and how it’s performing.

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Building an automated home with z-wave in 2014

Ah home automation – what an overworked subject. It’s been hot (or not) for 20 years …

Truth is home automation needs to be shelved as a meaningless buzzword encompassing way too many ideas.

As we just bought a new home, I was faced with the challenge of dealing with rewiring it so it matches today’s electrical standards (which is a very versatile concept). Fact is wiring a home is a nightmare. You need to figure out early one which switch connects to which plug and engrave it deeply into you house stone walls… as a consequence it VERY expensive (~ 100>150€ per  switch) and totally inflexible.

My initial approach was too remove all switches from the wall and just use phones and remotes – but Stephanie used a veto and let’s face it – switches are a needed convenience.

I spent a huge amount of time researching technologies to support the objectives : no wires, flexibility. To those objectives I had to add security / redundancy since I could not allow a downtime of weeks should the home go down and should I need to repair it . Yes – the concept of a home going down is a bit scary.

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The first technology I really liked was Chacon’s DI-O. Direct communication between switches and plugs, no central point of faliure in the architecture… only massive drawback: about 2s lag between the flip of the switch until the light toggles …

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After an in-depth market study I naturally landed on z-wave as the most promising technology. Plenty vendors (although you need to watch out about the z-wave frequency – typically EU devices are incompatible with US devices), plenty devices… There isn’t any nice module such as Chacon’s for the wall switches, but since Stephanie didn’t want tech-looking switches I ended up hacking a KFOB2 to connect it to simple brass push-buttons ready to install.

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On the power-side, fibaro micro-modules are pretty awesome: small and sleek they do an amazing job. They also have support for some cool sensors – such are pH, K and more for salted water aquariums (another side request for the new home :D).

As for the logics side, since z-wave requires a central controller, I spent a lot of time prototyping solutions… the best consumer solution in my opinion is Smartthings: cheap, efficient,  beautiful… but unavailable in EU (remember the incompatibility between EU and US z-wave thing? ). another weird thing is that it’s currently network-dependant. Alex, Smartthings CEO says they’re going to make it offline ready but in the meantime it’s scary to think that a net outage would break home (let’s face it in consumer Internet, outages are a reality).

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Second best is Fibaro’s but the only viable option supporting proper scripting is the Home Center 2 (lite has no lua capabilities) retailing at 600€ … which would kind of break the point of getting an ROI option. Moreover I was concerned about potential hardware failures… and how tough it would get to find another working box in 5 years when this happens.

I was feeling more comfortable with raspberry pi solutions where I could bake a backup pi for 50$ and keep it around in case of failures. After testing all solutions I ended up liking Domoticz most.  While far from perfect, it’s having a very active community and fast paced iterations which I’m confident will enable me to reach my goals. Great web ui, great Android app Dromotica.

Next step: actually putting the whole thing in the home around q4 :) Bottom line: I’l be saving with this solution around 60€/switch and I’ll get way better flexibility – and a cool shutdown button and the door to turn off all lights before I leave home :)

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Is Google Glass dead !?

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I’ve been a glass explorer for 6 months now. I often get asked “what is Glass good for?” Let’s face it: there is no good answer to that question.

Glass is obviously a platform to explore wearable and hands-free computing. From that prospective the platform is mostly up to the challenge.
After 6 months in the field the platform is falling short of killer apps that would justify wearing glasses rather that pulling out a phone

Turn-by-turn direction is probably the only app that really gets advantage of the platform, since wether your driving or walking pulling out your phone to check the next turn is a nuisance.
Beyond that use case, I’m pretty much clueless … I was dreaming at a facial recognition software that would pull out cards on the people I meet (or just memorize when we met with speech to text of our conversation) but that’s forbidden by the ToS.
I was dreaming about interactive lego building instructions ( or any other repair/build instructables) as to keep the hands free int the process, but the usability of such attempts remains rough.

After 6 months, the question remains: did we lack imagination, is the platform (mostly the screen definition and little battery life) limiting (I don’t think so) or is this whole augmented vision thing simply not for the consumer ?

I still think that the platform has a lot of potential, its initial position as a “notification” device was totally wrong in my opinion: the google wear watch will be more fit for that purpose. But the lack of ideas / innovations on the platform is worrying. Here’s the biggest list of glass apps I could find – not really compelling.

Finally, last but not least, the lack of firmware updates along with the bad quality of the latest firmware (reboots, sluggishness) are not helping its case…

The only sure thing about glass is that in the US it’s the best ice breaker ever. Doesn’t work so well in France though!

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SEO, how you have changed !

I had lately a couple discussions which made me realize there are loads of misconceptions about SEO.

SEO used to be magic. Some guys with a magic wand would be able to boos your ratings to Google top result list by tweaking a few tags here in there in your pages. Some dark wizards pretending to wield such powers still roam the web but let’s face it : they have largely become extinct – or at least have evolved as provider of best practices to improve your site as SEO technology has evolved to behave manly instead of being a simple easy-to-trick algorithm.

I’ll try to get a few points straight – and if you have specific questions please let me know:

1. What is SEO

My definition of SEO varies greatly from what it used to be: SEO is the art of making sure a human can easily navigate your site contextually and discover it all.

This means that your site’s backbone will enable a user to reach leaves answering specific questions by narrowing progressively the field of research.

“Easy navigation” also means making sure your content is easy to read and understand in a glimpse.

2. I’ve been stuffing keywords and paying for backlinks to get my SEO up – am I a fool ?

Well…. basically yes. Those techniques have become largely counter-productive.

Traditionally, the SEO “techniques” would incorporate the following elements:

  • keyword stuffing
  • link exchanges

But those techniques have become largely inefficient. If you want proof, check out what happened to Rap Genius a couple months ago: they got banned from Google! And indeed their link exchange technics were pure SEO Spam.

But back-links from high-reputation sites will help your ranking – so where’s the line will you ask ?

3. You must think of Google as a human

Google is special – it’s  the key source of organic traffic for many – and unlike Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and others he actually understands your HTML content from an end-user prospective. The other sites will look at tags and will not try to “understand” the content – hence you can easily fool them with keywords that have nothing to do with your page’s content and push them into doing the social actions you intend (i.e. share a cat picture from a very serious blog post when liking it).

But Google understands native language. It doesn’t really handles properly javascript and CSS yet, so you can still get some flexibility regarding how the content marked within your HTML page actually shows up to users, but he DOES understand your words.

If you follow simple HTML structure rules, and use the HTML tags properly (<title>, <h1><h2><h3>…) then Google will be able to understand what this page is about and it will make its way at the right spot in the search results.

If you focus on making sure that a user will easily be able from your homepage to discover the whole site by recursively following links within your site, you can be sure Google will be able to properly index the site. Even the sitemap is getting “deprecated” – a site without a sitemap will get indexed just as well.

4. So what matters?

The best way to do SEO is to focus on the site usability and on its content, making sure that each page has its own url and can be easily found within the site.

Backlinks matters, but beware of spamming backlinks or sophistically created links (with plenty keywords stuffed in your link tags…). Don’t think of it as pagerank, this ok it as third parties giving “trust” to your resources – google understands and appreciates that.

What matters most from my experience is how original and dynamic your content is. If your content is user generated and will be commented / edited by users regularly, Google will LOVE it and come check it back often. This is typically whi Wikipedia has so high rankings : heaps of backlinks get high trust and very dynamic content scores additional points.

5.  Are there any tools I should use ?

The best tool is Google Webmaster: it will help you assess wether Google bot can access and parse your site easily.

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2 weeks in #Glass

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It’s been 2 weeks since I got into the Google #glass explorer program – and I’ve tried to wear those tangerine 2.0 glasses as much as I could ever since I got a hold on them.

ksso-yamauba.jpgFirstly: why did I get them ?

You may have missed that side of my personal history but I did work on a virtual reality project called VR-WEAR some 5 years+ ago. While the project which was very much like the Occulus rift but pre-kickstarter did not get funded at that time (just after the supbrime crisis was not the best time to go bold in France) immersive and augmented technologies have been my passion for a long time.

Then, as an early adopter and entrepreneur it was kind of my duty to be on the first wagon of that new Google trip to try and find out if there’s any business that could be built on top of this platform (short answer : obviously yes!)

Glass is an experiment, and should be treated as such. No one knows yet when/if it’s ever going to go mainstream. But it’s definitely full of promises. I won’t tell you about the unboxing experience (you can read that in plenty other places) or the fitting experience @ Google’s San Francisco dowtown offices (which is pretty awesome – thanks Svetlana  for your patience!) – Instead I’ll focus on what glass is and isn’t.

Glass isn’t an immersion device. The whole philosophy of glass is augmenting your vision, not replacing it. The initial SDK only allowed you to insert “cards” on your glass in a timely manner. While this sounds limited, this is really the spirit of the device: being there but letting you forget about it.

Glass is handless (almost). This is really one of the biggest change in computer interaction imho – trying to run everything through voice commands. It still has its limitations but I can promise that in a below freezing day being able to map your route while keeping your hands warm is a bliss (I actually did this)

Glass sucks up your phone battery. Since it’s tethered to your phone through bluetooth 4, Glass will notably kill your battery life (and my Nexus 4’s was already barely making it through the day – now I get to travel with an extra external battery pack – oh joy !)

Glass is dates and free beers – and every social interactions takes longer. If you’re looking to connect with people – just hang around in a meetup wearing glass you’ll be the center of attention – and if you dare go shopping with them expect any social interaction to start with “Hey wassup with your glasses ? ” . Also meeting other explorers is awesome!

 

Glass is the tip of the iceberg. Basically any augmented reality idea that has been popping for 30 years (since the early Terminator movie) now gets a sleek platform to be tried on. While using a phone for AR and holding it in front of you has always seemed a bit awkward to me glasses just makes it more natural.

As you can tell I’m pretty excited about it and I have tons of idea for cool stuff around this tech – not sure I’ll find the time to test them all but I can’t wait to see glassed fitted into a scuba mask !

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Introducing the Fartbot

This was a little challenge the kid and I wanted to beat: building a fartbot. Contrary to its name it’s not farting (I can feel your disappointment) – it’ll end up being a mobile-phone controlled gloomy ghost making mist and awkward sounds.

We just managed step 1: making a bluetooth controlled moving platform – which ended up being pretty easy (thanks to the pile of tutorials out there, and awesome embedded platforms such as Arduino). We set up a build log on fartbot.co, so feel free to build yours too and let us know how it goes !

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M-Commerce for the masses is about mobile web

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Every e-commerce website wants an app. But let’s face it: apps don’t do everything.

Phones are getting crammed  with apps that get forgotten and never get fired up again. Going mobile is a necessity though: look at all the m-commerce business giants such as ebay, etsy or others are getting. But those who’ve been in business through the infancy of m-commerce have now all reached the same conclusion, and Ebay’s VP of marketing says it all:

“eBay is not m-commerce or e-commerce, it’s commerce period,” says eBay Europe VP of marketing,
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Apps do make sense in case you need extra features that can’t be met through usual channels : notification, advanced device interactions, better integrated UX …. But you have to keep in mind that most of the times, when thinking m-commerce, people will see their mobile as an extension of the web and will alway follow a similar path:

  1. Google
  2. Website
  3. Cart & checkout

And bringing a user from the web to a mobile app without resetting the flow is currently a challenge – and actually pretty useless in my opinion. A streamlined mobile web process is far more efficient, with a UX built to fit the mobile constraints (bigger fonts, less content and on-screen gadgets, no flash… ) it’s just as realistic to convert a visitor into a customer as it is on the web.

Bottom line: if’ you’re doing e-commerce, work on responsive design or at least a mobile version of your design, it’s the real key to enabling m-commerce – it’s cheaper and more efficient than building yet another mobile catalogue that no-one will end up using.

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The potential of Google Glass vs the reality

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The Next Web last week felt like a google glass meetup. All the tech hippies where there showcasing the latest toy from Google.

Let’s face it – this toy rox. Augmented reality has been in our minds for decades. And while head up displays have been around for a while, no one has ever managed to produce a device that got as close as google glass to becoming mass market. But they are not there yet. Set aside the price point which I’m sure will drop significantly since the bill of material is 150USD tops ( I haven’t checked the price of microdisplays in a while).

Yet as usually the challenge is not about the device, it’s about the services it will enable. I took a long close look at the Glass SDK and was pretty puzzled by how close the Glass ecosystem can be. Basically the interactions are limited to inserting “timeline” events that will display on glass and that can be bound to user’s location updates (every 10 mins or so). This sounds awesome but also very limited. I would like to be able to enrich Glass’s dictionary of voice commands to script stuff I often do online, I would like to be able to use the camera to read 1D or 2D codes and display ad1-hoc information or even better scan heads and listen to voice fingerprints to pull out the vcard and notes I have on someone … but all that can’t happen with such limited access to the system.

At this point I’m glad I didn’t throw away 1500USD on glass – set aside the brag factor I feel they’re plain useless – but I really do hope google will provide the tools to bring the device to the next stage and that it will hence be ready to bring value to the masses.

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