The Fuel Team acquired by PR Newswire

We announced some huge news this morning for our company, The Fuel Team.

http://www.prnewswire.com/mnr/prnewswire/39408/

In 2002, Micha Hanson and I received a phone call from Dee Rambeau asking for some coding help. Dee and his business partner Jason Keller had a PR and software background and understood the opportunity for building easy to use tools to help the overworked PR professional. Micha and I were impressed by the idea. Jason moved from San Francisco to Denver, we teamed up with Rob Gwin and the first products were born.

Today’s announcement of the PRN acquisition is a great example of how a small company can be laser focused on building great products and the right strategic partnerships will develop. I’m so proud of our crew.

Setting up a 529 Plan in Colorado

We had a baby in January and I’ve been procrastinating setting up her 529 plan.

“A 529 Plan is an education savings plan operated by a state or educational institution designed to help families set aside funds for future college costs. It is named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code which created these types of savings plans in 1996.”

Source: savingforcollege.com

I’ve skimmed articles and listened to podcasts about the subject, here are some highlights:

1. You have to research and choose a State offered 529 Plan

I chose Colorado’s 529 Plan, my home state, mainly because I just love Colorado..and I wanted the tax benefits their 529 Plan gave me for being a resident. I then choose the Direct Portfolio Savings Plan because it was managed by Vanguard and I have an IRA with them.

2. Once you’ve decided on a 529 Plan, you have to signup and choose options

The Direct Portfolio Savings Plan 529 Plan that I chose offered 4 options, each based on level of risk. Of course, I have no idea what I’m doing so I just choose the first option, “Age-based”, it adjusts your level of risk over time beginning at high risk and moving to low risk as it gets closer to the beginning of college. This is the option the Obama’s chose for their kids.

3. Now you can start contributing

The maximum the 529 Plan can have in it is $280,000. You can contribute whatever you want each year until you reach that maximum.

4. When you are ready to pull money out:

Distributions from the Plan that go towards tuition costs come out tax-free. This makes sense because the money has already been taxed when it goes in but then comes out without being taxed. So, you are not double taxed on this money or it’s gains by the IRS. Read this FAQ page for more info

I also enjoyed listening to Marketplace’s Story on choosing 529 Plans.

What is Capitalization?

This email exchange between myself and a business partner explains Capitalization or Cap Structure:

To: John
From: KT
Subject: What is Capitalization?

You and Dave mentioned Capitalization today…..is this the right definition for what you were talking about?

Capitalization
Total amount of the various securities issued by a corporation. Capitalization may include bonds, debentures, preferred and common stock, and surplus. Bonds and debentures are usually carried on the books of the issuing company in terms of their par or face value. Preferred and common shares may be carried in terms of par or stated value. Stated value may be an arbitrary figure decided upon by the director or may represent the amount received by the company from the sale of the securities at the time of issuance.

KT

And the response:

To: KT
From: John
Subject: RE: What is Capitalization?

Yes, but a simple definition would be the finical makeup/ownership of the company in terms funding and value.  For example ACME’s current ownership structure is 50% ABC Holdings and 50% XYZ Corp (me).  In bringing Steve aboard we will ask him for additional capital in order to join the company in exchange for his acquired percentage of ownership.  We will determine a value of the company (lets say $1 million) and then exchange 10% of equity in ACME for $100,000.00.  A simple example but on point.  We could also go to a bank and get a loan and provide capital to the company.  This would alter our capitalization or cap structure adding debt in place of equity funding.  Let me know if you have other questions.

John

The future of Online Retail

I had the opportunity to ponder the state of online retail lately and came up with 5 topics relevant to the discussion.

Layaway
If an online retailer offered layaway I would use it.  The concept seems easy enough, enter your bank routing and account info along with the amount you would like to apply towards your purchase each month.  The retailer has a great interface for you to check on your progress and sends you email reminders each month, etc…for participating in the layaway you get a better deal from the retailer on the item.  (Layaway would make chipping away at the price of that new Mountain Bike a bit easier!)  By offering layaway the retailer would also be forging a relationship with the customer above and beyond a basic transaction.  The ease of paying bills online combined with chatter about being more responsible with personal credit creates a great environment for layaway to become reality.

Customer Service via Social Networks
@comcastcares is the twitter handle for Comcast’s customer service department.  Using twitter search tools they can monitor tweets about Comcast and respond immediately to customers.  This type of customer interaction is revolutionary.  The customer’s complaint and the Company’s response is out there for others to view.  This trend will no doubt continue as the idea of picking up a phone to call and complain about something fades.

Sustainability and Used Goods
As people care more about their impact on the environment related to consumerism they will look at 2 things: how the item is manufactured and should they buy new or used.  

Retailers like Apple and Patagonia are very transparent and offer information about their manufacturing processes which they use as a product differentiator.  Environmental impact will not be as important as product performance but it will carry weight with customers.

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” will continue as a trend causing consumers to look for used or second hand goods.  Retailers need to prepare a solution to customers not wanting to buy brand new items.  

Niche Advertising
Targeted niche advertising has, of course, been around forever.  Using Facebook ads, Lijit’s ad network and other highly targeted advertising channels is becoming mandatory.

Interactive Video
The best experience I’ve had with any sort of Interactive Video was watching Obama’s inauguration on Facebook.  A high quality video stream combined with my Friend’s activity displayed on the screen making for a unique, interesting viewing experience.  This concept can certainly apply to online retailing.  Imagine a ski gear website showing a live stream of the new, cool ski movie from Warren Miller on a Friday night.  Your friends from around the world are posting comments realtime as you watch the video and see product specs and information displaying inline with your Friend activity.   

How I use Social Networks

I read this paragraph from an article titled 10 Ways Social Media will change in 2009:

“They will connect around meaningful topics and have live and simultaneous conversations within parameters they themselves define, which will bring relevance back to their interaction with others.”

This got me thinking about my “meaningful topics” and how they related to the social networking technologies I use the most: Facebook, Twitter, BrightKite, LinkedIn and Gyminee.

Facebook is my mindless entertainment

Like everyone it seems, I joined Facebook a while ago and connected with a few old high school friends.  That seems like the good ole’ days of Facebook, now I am friends with clients, coworkers, and people I grew up with but were never friends with and my wife and Denver friends.  Facebook competes with entertainment like watching TV, reading a magazine, etc.  Most of my Facebook activity is at night or triggered by receiving an email notification.  Facebook becomes increasingly relevant to my social life as my friends begin to use it and post time sensitive, relevant things like “wanna go skiing tomorrow?”.  Find Kelly Taylor on Facebook

Twitter means keeping in touch with the tech community

Most of the people I follow on twitter are tweeps in the Boulder/Denver tech scene, VCs or software developers.  Only a small percentage of people I follow are actually friends of mine in real life.  Surfing twitter usually sends me down productive, educational rabbit holes, informs me of what’s going on in the community and what is top of mind for the important thinkers in the tech industry.  I take twitter very seriously and feel it’s added tremendous value to my career.  Find Kelly Taylor on twitter

BrightKite broadcasts how rad I am

I only “Check In” occasionally using BrightKite on my iPhone.  Usually I do this because I am somewhere cool like my favorite restaurant Mountain Sun or hanging out skiing in Silverthorne.  I love BrightKite’s iPhone app and have fun with the service….but kindof wish twitter would buy them to simplify things.  Find Kelly Taylor on BrightKite

LinkedIn is my Career Counselor

I look at and tweak my LinkedIn profile occasionally which helps me perform an internal audit of my career and how things are progressing.  The act of joining groups on LinkedIn seems almost more important than participating in them.  Occasionally I comment on a discussion or attempt to connect with someone through someone in my network, but that’s about the extent of it.  View Kelly Taylor’s profile on LinkedIn

Gyminee is my training reality check

I’ve used web apps before to help with my marathon and triathlon training such as Training Peaks.  My latest favorite is Gyminee because of the beautiful UI including graphs and “letter grades” as well as it’s social networking component.  Most of my “friends” on Gyminee are similar to my twitter friends, I only know them online and we’ve possibly met once or twice in real life.  Even though I don’t know these people it still provides a good motivator for me to keep up on my workouts, post my progress and comment on group discussions.  View Kelly Taylor’s Workouts on Gyminee

_______  

It is interesting to ponder the “meaningful topics” in my life that I don’t use social networking technologies for, there aren’t any.

This leads me to the conclusion that the idea of a “Social Network” is going to fade into basic computing and life infrastructure.  

I enjoyed reading the above articles for the author’s predictions in 2009:  Ad Revenue, Convergence of Networks and Platforms, Social Media Jobs…very similar to 2008 predictions I’ve read.  One predication I feel he missed is that today’s “Social Media” is the gateway to interactive TV.  Watching Obama’s Inauguration speech on CNN/Facebook with my Facebook “News Feed” showing my friends realtime comments about the event is a good indicator of things to come.

All in all, pondering Social Media’s future from time to time is a good thing.  Goodness knows most of my drinking beers, dinner with friends conversation begins with “So, on Facebook I read that…..”.


Review of Valley Boy by Tom Perkins

 

I finished reading Valley Boy by Tom Perkins a few months ago, the first book I read on my Kindle.  Valley Boy is an autobiography filled with interesting stories about tech history, fancy cars, extreme wealth, famous people and sailing.  Perkins is one of those unique guys that was incredibly smart and worked his ass off to achieve elite status in the tech and venture world however, his passions seem to lay elsewhere in pursuits such as sailing and writing.  I love stories about people that are wildly rich and powerful but still get childishly excited about meeting one of their favorite authors.   

Score: A

RIP PowderFone

Last week I discontinued PowderFone, a wakeup call service for skiers and riders that I launched with my partners Micha Hanson and Doug Goodwin in 2002.  In our prime, our resort customers included Intrawest, Vail Resorts and many other popular ski areas.  

Using the open source platform Asterisk and PHP we built an application that assembled a custom snow report from data provided by Snocountry.  Users could define the resorts and day/times they wanted to receive a call. 

In retrospect, we overcame many technical hurdles in areas that we were not experts in such as VOIP.  As we grew, scaling became our primary issue as call quality began to suffer.  Our vendors were also a challenge as they went out of business or dropped support for volume calling that our application required.  I learned a ton about customer service as users moved or changed phone numbers and we placed calls to people that did not subscribe.  Calling people at 5am in Iowa about 6 inches of new snow at Vail is not a good way to make friends.

All in all it was a great run.  PowderFone was the first startup that I solicited investments from family and friends.  I was not prepared for the guilt I felt telling them we had to shut down the company.

Thanks to the Interns that helped us year after year and to Doug and Micha for working so hard on the application and search engine optimization of the website.

Consumer Buying Habits and Design

In a recent episode of the Podcast HBR IdeaCast titled “Authenticity”a comment was made relating consumer buying habits with authenticity:

“Consumers buy in their own self-image.”  

I feel a parallel can be drawn from the concept of Authenticity to Product Design.  I have been in the website business for years.  Over and over Management struggles with how to templatize a website offering to reduce design costs.  For certain companies such as Template Monster, taking advantage of this concept has worked well for them.  

Finding the balance between a generic low cost design and something a consumer feels great about buying is an ongoing challenge.  Because a website represents their Business or Organization, choosing a design from a Gallery doesn’t match the passion, pride and uniqueness they feel for that Business.  Even if the consumer does find something that suits their needs from a Gallery the urge to “customize” is present….a way to make it theirs and only theirs.

Morning Think Time

I set my iPhone Alarm for 5:10am, currently to the ringtone Viva la Vida by ColdPlay.  Most days during the work week I am able to wake up, sometimes I need to sleep in and I do, no pressure.  On some advice from Brad Feld, I have created a routine for my wake up: turn off alarm, coffee already brewing, standup and stretch, grab robe, walk downstairs.  I have found having a routine for getting yourself out of bed is a key part of being able to wake up early.

I have set no rules for myself for this early morning time, it’s my time.  As I sit down at my computer I check email, twitter, sometimes read through my RSS feeds…it’s my time to think, surf and read.

A result of this no pressure approach is that I get to see where the morning takes me.  Sometimes the first tweet I read takes me down a path of learning something completely new.  For example, a few days ago I watched a 30 minute interview of Mike Wallace and Frank Lloyd Wright at 5:30am!  I’ve also had mornings in which I sit down and start chipping away at my Inbox.  If I had this scheduled or planned I am sure I would not be able to drag myself out of bed.  I’ve had great IM sessions with friends on the other side of the globe, written blog posts, worked on startup ideas, fixed bugs, watched videos, caught up on Facebook and more during my morning think sessions.

As much as I practice GTD and follow concepts advocated by people like David Allen, I feel that having total free time to think, read and learn is key to work happiness.  By the way, I am writing this at 6:04am as I pour my second cup of coffee.  I wonder what today has in store for me.

3 Reasons Why I Care about TechStars

After a fun day in Boulder attending the TechStars Investor Day, I thought I would share some thoughts on why I would sacrifice a vacation day to drive to Boulder and listen to a bunch of presentations by startups run by people I’ve never met.

Motivation

Your career can be 2 things: a job that you go to, make money, do some interesting things, and have a few laughs along the way OR it can be your Opus.

“The entire process — not just the finished product — was known as the “Opus.”  The word means “work,” and was often capitalized to distinguish it from the more ordinary sense of the word.  The “Work” was the long process of refining raw material, going through many phases identified by colors — blackening, whitening, reddening, yellowing — and reaching an end point described variously as a peacock’s tail, the philosopher’s stone, or the elixir of immortality.”

– taken from Thomas Moore’s A Life at Work

The more years I get under my belt working, the more I appreciate people’s ability to do great stuff.  This is my first reason for following TechStars, Motivation.  I am constantly referring to “the way TechStars did that” when I am talking with people at work.  The crew that runs the Project and the companies that are participating really do quality work…..being surrounded by this gives me energy to improve what I’m working on.

Legitimacy

I have always admired traditional careers like Doctor, Lawyer, etc and have never felt “Businessman” fit into that grouping even though you hear the term grouped with traditional career tracks a lot.  My admiration for these careers likely stems from a grass is greener viewpoint, but nevertheless I respect some of the formality that accompanies these careers.  Conferences, titles, certifications….all known and passed down from generation to generation.  

When I began as a Software Developer for SPSS after college I never quite felt like I had that legitimacy in my profession.  As I worked my way through small businesses, startups and contract gigs the stress over career validation continued.  I was this weird combination of “Businessman”, even though I wasn’t really….“Engineer”, even though I would never compare myself to a “real Engineer”…..and “Entrepreneur” even though I felt starting a little tiny business that wasn’t going anywhere didn’t count.  With that said, I didn’t feel like a failure rather I didn’t quite understand how the Opus I was building fit into the grown-up work world.

Projects like TechStars bring legitimacy to a career path that many people like myself are either on or are just starting.  Their Mentorship approach showcases examples of individuals that are deep into building their Opus and serve as excellent examples to follow.  The TechStars Demo Days and Events they put on bring Investors together with Entrepreneurs in an exciting atmosphere that is much much cooler than any other industry gathering that usually depress me (ie: Industry Award Banquets).

After observing a TechStars event you get a good sense that this is a Community in which you belong and legitimizes the professional career you’ve chosen.  

“Oh yeah, what I do is actually really cool, I’m surrounded by brilliant and successful people, and this is actually very fun.  I’m lucky to be a part of this.” 

– how I felt walking out of the Boulder Theater after the TechStars Investor Day 

People

During the Investor Demo Day the Ignighter presentation joked about how hard it is to meet people after college.  There is truth to this as well in the tech community.  I have been to a variety of conferences, tech meetups, etc but never quite click with the people I meet and talk with.  The Community around TechStars, both the people that are involved with the Project and the people that follow it for fun (like myself) are cool and fun to talk with.  I have learned a ton from simply following TechStars on Twitter and reading blog posts from the TechStars Community.  As lame as that may sound I consider the TechStars Community a valuable asset that is part of my career growth.