Category: start-ups

Apperating Systems: The Blurry Line Between App & OS and The Coming Launcher Wars

A slide from the Facebook Home launch event shows how Facebook Home sits between the Android operating system and apps — i.e., it’s an apperating system. Photo: Alex Washburn/Wired
A slide from the Facebook Home launch event shows how Facebook Home sits between the Android operating system and apps — i.e., it’s an apperating system. Photo: Alex Washburn/Wired

Earlier this year Facebook launched Facebook Home and the (tech) world took notice. Here was a totally different user experience built on top of Android and not specifically tied to a company device (unlike Amazon’s Kindle Fire). Although it still allows you to get to the underlying Android apps, etc., Facebook Home effectively replaces the Android user experience, manipulating the operating system and how we use it. In the Android world these are called Launcher apps; an app that takes over and becomes what you see when you turn on your phone (or tablet) and dictates how you use it. Its an app that acts like an operating system, or as Wired recently called them “Apperating Systems”.

This isn’t new. There are a bunch of these launcher apps in Google Play with varying degrees of quality. Amazon’s Kindle Fire has its own apperating system running on top of Android. It’s not easy to create something that is going to be as fluid, responsive, and intuitive as the operating system it lives on, but when done right these apps bring more features and functionality than we get out of the box. It is difficult but you don’t need to be a large company to pull it off; Japan-based Go Launcher for example, brings more widgets, custom transitions, and greater flexibility to Android, and rated 4.5 after 1.2M+ reviews, has been downloaded over 50M times. Yes, 50M and growing.

Ottawa, Canada based Teknision is causing waves with their launcher named Chameleon. This thing is an Apperating System in the truest sense. Not only does it present a different user experience, widgets, and customizability, it works to understand you and what you might want at anytime of day. As Teknision says it’s “A homescreen designed to fit your lifestyle.” From the site…

“Chameleon lets you create multiple home screens each with your own layout of widgets and apps. Chameleon widgets are designed to give you the most relevant information that you want, when you want it. Your information needs may change throughout your day, so Chameleon includes an innovative context system. Through our context system you can create rules so that whenever you unlock your device you are presented with the Home Screen that is immediately valuable to you.”

That means you can wake up in the morning and turn on your tablet and you’ll get weather and maybe the morning news. Check back at work and you’ll see industry and work related content. In bed at night? Maybe videos and social. The focus here is an experience that is always relevant to you. Pretty cool stuff.

Being the first thing people see when they turn on their mobile device is extremely valuable real estate. Apple and Microsoft tightly control this; maintaining rules on what developers, OEMs, Carriers, and content companies can/can’t do on their devices. The effect is the everyone other than Apple and Microsoft are always a click (or much more) away; behind an icon or tile and fighting for app/content discovery and engagement.

With its open nature, Android steps in and has become the playground for the UX creative masses and opportunistic. Within some Google rules, companies can power the default Android homescreen experience and actually how people use their device. I can’t over-estimate how powerful that is. Wired’s article is titled “Move Over Apple and Google: Apperating Systems are Taking Over Your Phones”, and correctly notes this loss of control is a gift and a curse;

“As apperating systems spread and improve, they will help Android and iOS better serve niche audiences and serve as labs for features that migrate back to the host system and into general use. At the same time, they’ll raise thorny questions about the appropriate balance of power between operating system vendors like Google and Apple on the one hand and app makers like Facebook and Amazon on the other.”

There is a titanic industry shift underway where the hardware provider may not be the hardware experience provider. You can buy a phone because you like how it feels and the megapixels the camera has but then install the apperating system of your choice. In a tech world where the giants have been racing to control the full stack, this is very disruptive.

Facebook Home has put a spotlight on the space and in a sign that things are heating up, the money has started flowing. Yet to launch Aviate has recently raised a round of funding from some very note-able VCs and angels. My bet is we’ll see more investments soon.

Kindle, Facebook Home, Go Launcher, Chameleon, and Aviate all have their own goals and company objectives and its early days; the concept of being able to actually change the experience on your phone isn’t mainstream and whether it gets there depends on how much more compelling these apperating systems (or launcher apps) are versus the default mobile OS. Apple and Google will continue to work wonders on iOS and Android respectively and at the same time we’ll see more ways developers are extending those experiences. What you choose is up to you but what it all means is a consumer-focused, innovation driven world in the palm of your hand.
Facebook Home


Go Launcher

HTML5 DRM is Here

Netflix-logoBack in October I wrote a guest post on VentureBeat that argued in favor of an HTML5 DRM solution, something that will unlock premium video from the device and allow us to watch all the likes of Game of Thrones anytime, anyplace online. Well, that day may finally be upon us. Netflix has been working to make HTML5 DRM a reality and has today announced HTML5 playback support for Samsung ARM Chromebooks. This is big.

From the Netflix blog:

“Over the last year, we’ve been collaborating with other industry leaders on three W3C initiatives which are positioned to solve this problem of playing premium video content directly in the browser without the need for browser plugins such as Silverlight. We call these, collectively, the “HTML5 Premium Video Extensions”.

You can read the post for detailed descriptions of what these extensions are, but here is a summary:

Media Source Extensions (MSE): Enables Netflix to serve content from the best content delivery network at the time, include failover, and manipulate how content is streamed based on available bandwidth. In English it means serving a video stream the most optimal way to ensure its fast and consistent.

Encrypted Media Extensions (EME): Here’s where it gets interesting. This extension enables Netflix to “control playback of protected content”, enabling shows that studios were afraid to stream on the web with Flash or Silverlight (dead and dying respectively) to now be distributed on the web and not only in native apps. The most interesting aspect here is that the extensions specification specifies “how the DRM license challenge/response is handled, both in ways that are independent of any particular DRM” meaning support for a variety of DRM systems in the browser, not locked to any one provider.

Web Cryptography API (WebCrypto): This is the layer that makes sure data travelling back/forth between the browser and Netflix’s servers stays protected and secure. Netflix notes, “this is required to protect user data from inspection and tampering, and allows us to provide our subscription video service on the web.”.

Taken as the sum of their parts it means:  Serving video effectively, respecting digital rights required/enforced by studios, and maintaining security in transmission.

What it all comes down to: We can soon look forward to watching the shows we know and love; premium content like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and blockbuster movies through any web browser. No more being tied to a device that has downloaded plugins or apps. It’s ironic to say that the advent of a system that restricts playback based on rights is enabling content freedom but in my view that is the case. Only the truly delusional think that HBO, AMC, and Hollywood studios are going to hand over the content to be shared without any economic benefit (like requiring a subscription or download payment). If they did they’d go out of business fast.

To date, in order to distribute their content along with associated rules on playback, sharing, etc. networks and studios needed native mobile apps on phones and tablets. As TechCrunch correctly points out,

“Netflix was able to work with Google to get its videos working on those Chromebooks, thanks to a proprietary Netflix-developed PPAPI (Pepper Plugin API) plug-in which takes the place of the WebCrypto extension. But once WebCrypto is available through the Chrome browser, Netflix should be able to extend its support of HTML5 to Windows and Mac PCs without the need for Silverlight.”

Once WebCrypto is available through the Chrome browser…that’s the key. Once this API is baked into Chrome, which is in Google’s best interest, it will get baked into competing browsers and usher in the reality of premium content distributed on the web. We’re not there yet but its closer than ever and like I said in that VentureBeat post, it’s inevitable.

Silicon Country: Everything You Need to Know About Canada’s New Start-Up Visa

go-canadaToday is one of those days that I’m more proud than usual to be Canadian. We may one day look back at something that happened today as truly historic because of the impact it may have on Canada, the U.S., and the technology world in general. Today, Canada launched the Start-Up Visa program.

“Canada is open for business to the world’s start-up entrepreneurs. Innovation and entrepreneurship are essential drivers of the Canadian economy. That is why we are actively recruiting foreign entrepreneurs – those who can build companies here in Canada that will create new jobs, spur economic growth and compete on a global scale – with our new start-up visa.” – Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney

It’s a pilot program with an initial allotment of 2, 750 visas where the focus is on quality of applicants. Canada’s Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (CVCA) and Canadian National Angel Capital Organization (NACO) are initial partners in the program helping to vet investors, mentors, etc., overall helping Citizenship & Immigration Canada set on the goal to first establish a track record for success, and then likely broaden the number of visas over time. That’s exactly the right thing to do.

In a nutshell, the Start-Up Visa Program requires that:

1. You’re not Canadian and have a great idea or business

2. You have significant funding from a designated Canadian Angel Investor (min $75,000 investment) or Venture Capital organization (min $200,000 investment). List below.

3. You have Intermediate English or French language proficiency (Canadian Language Benchmark 5)

4. You have at least one year at a post-secondary institution

What do you get if selected?

How about something that people hope, pray, and wait for…Permanent Residence Status in one of the best places to live in the world…Canada! If you’re more familiar with the U.S. system that’s like getting a green card. We’re not talking a work visa here, we’re talking about permanent status and a fast track to citizenship. That shows some serious focus and recognition of how entrepreneurs are the bedrock of a strong economy. No, this is not an April Fool’s joke.

What should also be recognized is how material an impact this may have on the start-up ecosystem in the U.S. It’s well-known how difficult it is for tech companies to hire foreign nationals, the messy bickering about HB-1 visas and proposed reforms stuck in Congress. It’s great to see Canada acting on what is clearly a need and an opportunity. 2012 was by most accounts one of the most active years for venture capital in Canada in quite some time and co-investing has also picked up. Just think, if Canada is now to become the go-to place to start your tech dreams then it’s also a gateway to the start-up communities and investors in Silicon Valley, New York, and elsewhere south of the border. You can easily see a lot more co-vesting happening, plus partnerships, acquisitions, and generally even closer bonds than exist today. That’s a good thing for everyone, especially entrepreneurs.

According to TechVibes, the designated VCs and Angel groups selected to take part in the program include the top of the investment food chain in Canada:

  • OMERS Ventures
  • BDC Venture Capital
  • iNovia Capital
  • Rho Canada Ventures
  • Version One Ventures and others.
  • Angel One Network, Inc.
  • First Angel Network Association
  • Golden Triangle Angel Network

There’s a limited number of visas and competition will be fierce for such a grand prize. If you meet the criteria, talk to your investor and get your applications in today!

How To Engage with a Would-Be Mentor

Helping-MentorPeople that start companies are not normal. Some say you need to be a little bit crazy. Depleting your life savings, begging for money and advice, working all day and night chasing a dream that maybe only you understand. Indeed, those that change the world are the ones with the guts to step outside what is normal and go after what others think is impossible. I believe all of that to be true. I also believe entrepreneurs need to know that your idea might be the most important thing to you but it’s not number one of the other guy’s list.

Starting a company means first being crazy excited about an idea, finding others that share that excitement, and all involved having the passion and willingness to execute and make it happen. Along the way its important to gain valuable perspective from mentors that have been there before or have a broader or deeper view with insight to offer. A typical mentor also has their own day-to-day job and might be mentoring and involved with multiple companies. First time entrepreneurs sometimes need to learn how to engage with those that are there to help, balancing their asks with the realization that the person they want advice from usually is willing to help many others while also balancing their own work duties.

How to Engage with a Would-be Mentor

This is more about how you first get connected with a perspective mentor. You goal might be to build a mentor network but ultimately the quality of the person’s advice and perspective as well as mutual interest will determine whether you want them involved or not. There are a few things to keep in mind when first trying to connect with people for advice:

1. Get introduced by someone the person knows

2. Send the person an email with a SHORT summary of what you’re doing and asking if they have some time for a quick chat

3. Wait…then wait some more

You’re company is the most important thing to you at every minute of the day and it should be. Recognize that your company is not number one on a perspective mentor’s to-do list (maybe it will be one day but not at first intro). If you’re getting introduced (email intro or otherwise) then the person will likely get back to you asap since if they don’t want to look like they don’t appreciate that their colleague provided the intro. It is in some respects an obligatory act to follow-up in order to show respect to the colleague that provided the intro. Plus, people usually don’t send intros to companies they don’t think might have some value or be interesting.

5. If a few days go by and you don’t get a response you can try a very polite follow-up email. You could also let the person that provided the intro know that you haven’t received a response, they may know a reason (the mentor is travelling, ill, etc.).

6. If you still don’t get a response then move on. The person isn’t interested and is too high and mighty to respect the colleague’s intro by at least sending you a response explaining why it might not be the right time to connect. Not the type of mentor you want.

7. When you get a response make sure to keep your email messages short. Be prepared to share some information on what you’re up to and ask to have a quick chat. Even five minutes on the phone is better than 10 emails back and forth. Even better, ask if you can meet for a coffee. If I find a company interesting I’ll almost always meet for a coffee to learn more (even if I don’t like the idea I’ll still meet if I think the entrepreneur is interesting).

All of the above is if you had an intro. If you cold call, cold email, cold LinkedIn message, cold tweet, etc. Then if you get a response you’re lucky. Why?

Follow-up priority

1. Companies I’ve met myself and are interested in

2. Companies that a good colleague has provided an intro too

3. Companies that I find myself and want to reach out to get to know more about (and therefore find a colleague that can provide an intro)

4. Companies I meet and may/may not be interested in (at a conference or event and was pushed a business card)

5. Companies that cold call, cold email, cold tweet without context

That’s the priority of interest and therefore response. That being said, seek out the mentors you want and cold LinkedIn message them. Just don’t harass them. Give them a quick and compelling summary of what you’re up to, if they’re interested they’ll respond. If they don’t respond it means they can’t help. I’ve connected with a mentor this way and never heard back from others that I tried to connect with. It doesn’t matter, throw your darts and see what hits. Just don’t harass.

What Not to Do

1. Never harass someone because they aren’t getting back to you according to your timeline. Valid or not, there are reasons you’re not getting a response; they’re busy with priority things at work, they’re travelling, they still need to think of their response, etc. You’ll get a response, and if you don’t then leave it alone and move on.

2. Attempt to get in touch through Twitter because you didn’t get an email back (or vice versa). You could follow-up and email with a polite tweet, that’s fine but don’t use a new form of communication just to harass. It’s not the impression you want to give.

3. Bad mouth the person to others. Whether the mentor got back to you and can’t help or never got back to you, take it all in stride. It’s a small world and it’s always better to not say anything than bring others down. Stay focused on your mission and move on connecting with others that can add value.

So build the best network you can filled with mentors that can add valuable perspective on what you’re trying to accomplish. Understand that quality mentors will connect with you if they feel they can add value and if they have the time. At the very least they should respond with a reason why they may not be helpful, if no other reason than to be polite (unless you’ve cold messaged them something absurd). Be crazy enough to follow your dream just don’t drive yourself crazy if sometimes others don’t share your dream or can’t contribute to it whether you want them to or not.


Start-Ups, Hockey, and What We Can Learn from Kadri

kadri-tampaThis past week I escaped the cold and took a trip with some friends to Florida; we followed the Toronto Maple Leafs on their swing to Miami  then Tampa and cheered on our hometown boy Nazem Kadri. I’ve known Naz since he was two years old and his family is like my own so I know all that he’s been through to get where he’s at now. It got me thinking, his road is not that different from the journey of our star tech companies. Promise, adversity, success. It doesn’t come easy.

Naz was selected 7th overall in the 2009 NHL Draft, a highly touted “offensive playmaker with hands of silk” is who the Leafs landed with their pick. Since he first put on skates he was a stand-out, the consummate all-star, and now a massive picture of him was hung at the Air Canada Centre even before training camp began. All the pressure was on. He was 19 and supposed to take on the world in the hotbed of hockey (for non-Hockey fans, the scrutiny and pressure playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs is like playing for the NY Yankees).  Success didn’t happen right away. Many believed he should have been playing in the NHL day one (myself included) but instead he spent 2009-2012 mostly with the Toronto Marlies, the Leaf’s development team, with only limited NHL time. He got stronger, got smarter, matured, and dealt with a massive amount of adversity.

In our industry we read, hear, and see young founders and companies touted as the next big thing all the time. They capture our attention and become mainstream seemingly overnight. How many aspiring entrepreneurs, who work to emulate that success take the time to understand and appreciate the back story of the companies like LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Apple? None of these companies hit it big day one, their success was years in the making and born of hard work. What we should put more emphasis on is the road to prosperity so that aspiring entrepreneurs can get a realistic picture of what to expect and how even the mighty were once the wanting. Twitter was born as a project inside a struggling company named Odeo. LinkedIn was founded in 1999 and took ten years to hit it big. Apple’s near bankruptcy is well documented and it was only until the iPod then the iPhone that the success story was born.

In Nazem’s case he kept his head down, stayed respectful, and worked hard to keep developing. Just like a start-up staying focused on the goal and working to make it happen. He changed some aspects of his game and got better; like when companies need to make a pivot. He heard all the pump and all the dump from the media in a hotbed of his industry (Toronto sports radio = Silicon Valley blogosphere).

Now, it’s all paying off. He’s not only playing for the Leafs, he’s leading the team in points. He has earned his success and he’s just getting started. He’s still only 22 years old.

To succeed you need to believe, work hard, and fight like hell. It doesn’t matter what you do, success doesn’t come easy. It all comes down to understanding that it’s not easy and having the fight in you to keep going to make it happen. Then, if/when things are going your way, to understand that you need to keep fighting to stay on top.

Naz has fight. He knows what it takes to succeed and he’s willing to take on anyone no matter how crazy it seems. Below is a video from the Tampa game we watched. Naz is the playmaker on the team not the fighter (6′ 0″ feet, 180 lbs) but check out the nasty cross check he takes to the back (at 0:03) from the biggest player on the other team (6′ 6″ and 230 lbs).

Naz, I’d rather see you using those hands to put pucks in the back of the net (see second video) and let the big boys throw the punches but like you said “you had to do what you had to do”. Proud of you buddy. Keep swinging.



Hands of silk…