AWS re:Invent: The Keynote

AWS re:Invent is a learning conference. They host a diverse spectrum of companies are startups, mid-size companies and large enterprise.

AWS has been in the market over 7 years. Andy Jassy, SVP of AWS gave a broad overview of the many offerings that Amazon has made available. He said the thing his team is most proud of is the pace at which they’ve been able to roll out new products, with 235 products now on the market, with many more to come in the next 6 weeks. Their client list is pretty ridiculous — Netflix, Microsoft, Adobe, Heroku, LinkedIn, Dropbox, tumblr, Heroku, Oracle, and the list goes on.

He talked at length about their security features, and how they make continuous improvements, obtaining federal and health dept certifications, especially for their largest enterprise customers, which trickle down to benefit all their customers, large and small.

He introduced a new offering in the security space, Cloudtrail, which logs all API calls to a service and store on S3.

Next, he talked about the AWS pricing philosophy, where the more customers they have, the more usage, the more infrastructure they need, which leads to economies of scale that they can then lower prices and get more customers. AWS has had 38 Price Reductions since 2006.

He then tied back into the them of the conference: Reinvention. AWS is able to conduct all sorts of experiments with cloud computing that enterprises can’t do because of their cost. Amazon is able to experiment often and fail without risk, enabling customers to rapidly build products with these services with deep capabilities.

Andy introduced Jeff Smith, the CEO of The Suncorp Group. Jeff spoke about innovation. He said we constantly underestimate our ability to solve problems. The biggest constraint we face is the constraint of our own thoughts. I loved his Charles Kettering slide:

Andy Jassy came back on stage and emphasizing that AWS’s energy is focused on what customers want, which led him to making a new product announcement: Amazon Workspaces, cloud desktop virtualization, with access through the browser of tablets.

kettering

Next to the stage was a VP from Dow Jones who talked about how they are migrating much of their operation to AWS. He got the most laughs of the keynote when he made a direct appeal to the developers and designers in the audience to join his team. I think it is almost a rule that every speaker has to have a portion of their talk dedicated to recruiting.

Andy Jassy came back to announce a new AWS mobile app development product called AppStream. AppStream uses EC2 to render and compute the user experience then provide HD video quality application streaming to deliver apps to lower end mobile devices.

Two more speakers spoke about how they use AWS, one to create a platform for the SEC to monitor and review all stock market activity to prevent flash crashes and the other (Atomic Fiction) to create amazing imagery with a AWS-powered render farm for big budget Hollywood movies like Star Trek Into Darkness.

Social Enterprise At Technori

Technori Pitch LogoLast week I was finally able to attend a Technori Pitch. This month’s event featured early stage companies focused on having a positive impact on some of the most pressing social challenges in Chicago, the U.S. and the world. This was perfect for me since I have joined just such a company in AuctionsByCellular.

It started off with a keynote from Christa Velasquez, Senior Fellow with the Initiative for Responsible Investment (IRI) at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University. Christa gave an overview of what qualifies as a social enterprise and talked about impact investing. Chicago Tribune’s Blue Sky Innovation did a pretty good job of covering her talk here.

Next up, five companies pitched their business to the investors and other attendees. All of them had a unique, inspirational story about how they are making a positive impact on the world.

OneGoal
Founder Jeff Nelson gave a powerful talk about his program whose sole purpose is to get CPS students to graduate from college. When Jeff was a CPS teacher, he found out that only 6% of his students would graduate from college. By partnering with great teachers, OneGoal has raised that rate to 84%. Learn more about OneGoal at onegoalgraduation.org and follow @OneGoalGraduate on Twitter.

ReBuilding Exchange
Founder Elise Zelechowski spoke about how her company, ReBuilding Exchange, is creating a marketplace for reclaimed building materials. They have been working with construction companies to foster a business model where it is more profitable for them to resell building materials rather than discard to a landfill. They also do cool things like offering DIY classes to people who want to build projects with reclaimed materials, employ workers that have barriers to finding jobs and sell custom furniture in their retail warehouse. They have an online store as well. Check them out at rebuildingexchange.org and follow @RXChicago on twitter.

Spark Ventures
The Spark Ventures presentation was very polished, both in the delivery and some really excellent photography showcasing all the good work their organization is doing. They specialize in creating sustainable businesses in developing countries, creating employment, opportunity and a brighter future for children in impoverished communities. Beyond asking for investment, Founder Rich Johnson asked the crowd to “lend us your status”, a really cool way to ask for people’s support via their social media accounts. Find out more at sparkventures.org and follow @SparkVentures on twitter.

Moxie Jean
I had heard of MoxieJean before when they competed in Bytes Over Bagel’s Chicago Tech Startup Madness. Founder Sharon Schneider started out by humorously going over all the problems Moms have finding quality second-hand clothes, and then quickly showed how her company had turned it into an easy, fun experience. Moxie Jean is upscale rescale, a website to buy or sell top brandname children’s clothes. They’re on twitter at @MoxieJeanKids.

Collaborative Group
Founder Kathleen Wright spoke about her company’s ambitious mission to bring economic opportunity to artisans all over the developing world by connecting them to big brands and retailers. They are already having a lot of success, partnering with quite a few brands already and getting a lot of press. Check them out at collaborative-group.com and following @coll_group on twitter.

Using Trello For Idea Management

trello-logoTrello is a fantastic web app from Fog Creek Software for organizing just about everything. I have written before about how I use it to organize my ideas. I recently ran across an article on using Trello to keep track of ideas, which made me want to get more into it.

If you are someone who has a lot of ideas for a variety of things, this is how I recommend you use Trello. First, get an account. It is free.

Stage 1: Idea Dump
Make a board. Call it ideas. And just pile them on in there. As you keep adding ideas, you can categorize your ideas into lists in your ideas board..

Stage 2: Idea Buckets
Hopefully, your ideas board fills up quickly. When it does, split off new boards of your most popular categories (e.g. Side Projects, Blog Posts). Then, further segment those boards into categories. For example, create a board of Gift Ideas, and have individual lists for your spouse, kids and so on.

trelloStage 3: Idea Management
You can get more out of Trello by using it to prioritize your ideas as well, moving ideas up and down their list. You’ll see your best ideas will naturally float to the top, and the clunkers drop on down. It is great for collaboration as well. Inviting others to join one of your boards and add their ideas in is simple and quick. Trello also makes it easy to transition from the idea stage to design/production.

If you are a creative person, give Trello a try. They have a fantastic mobile app as well, so you can manage your ideas anywhere, anytime.

Open Source Your Code For Fame and Fortune

My slides from my Techweek Chicago presentation are going to be published live (wifi permitting) during the talk. Once that happens, you can check them out at johnpolacek.github.io/open-source-for-fame-and-fortune . The presentation was built on top of a new html presentation framework I just started working on. It is called TweenDeck, and it is built on top of the Greensock Animation Platform. If you know what you are doing in Greensock, and understand how to build a Timeline animation, then you will find it super easy to use. It is a bit time intensive, as you have to handcode a lot of animations, but what you wind up with is a pretty slick preso. In addition to building presentations, I could see it being used to create things like product demos and animated stories in the browser.

As a followup, below are some additional resources related to what I talked about in the session.

Open Source Resources

Techweek LAUNCH

J.B. Pritzker started talking about all the great stuff happening in the City of Chicago. He was especially excited about innovations happening in the bio-medical technology space.

Four of the big initiatives in Chicago. First, there is 1871, which launched a year ago and is always in development. Second, starting a bio-medical accelerator to take advantage of all the major companies that already exist here and connect them with startups. UI Labs is an initiative to excite the U of I Engineering grads and keeping it here in Chicago. The fourth was to connect the best scientists from different disciplines to foster innovation.

J.B. concluded by saying that we are in a tech renaissance and he is excited for Chicago to take advantage of it.

Next, they presented the five startups in contention for the big prize.

NEXTSTEP.io makes sense of your quantified self. It lets you combine all the api’s and data from various services like Foursquare, Nike Fuelband, Instagram, etc. Like Mint.com helps you achieve your financial goals, NextStep.io helps you achieve your health goals. For example, by challenging you to walk to a coffee shop that is 10 minutes away instead of 2 minutes, or do walking meetings instead of static meetings.

The average non-profit uses 7 different services to manage its fundraising. 24Fundraiser reduces that to 1. They already have 500 users and are bringing in monthly recurring revenue.

Furywing wants to revolutionize the gambling industry. They want to make normal mobile games, but add real money gambling to them. What if you could play Angry Birds for money? They are about to launch their first gambling game in the UK, where they have a gambling license for iOS and Android.

Crowdfynd is taking lost & found and taking it online with crowdsourcing. We lose all kinds of stuff. People are using Craigslist, Facebook and Twitter for this now, but none of them work very well. This service allows regular people to become heroes. The app is free for consumers. They make money by charging companies who are obligated to manage their lost and found items.

WeDeliver is a same-day delivery made simple. It allows local brick & mortar stores to compete with the big eCommerce. Like the way Uber allows taxis to connect with people, WeDeliver facillitates the delivery of products locally with bike messengers and local services. By doing same-day delivery, it actually gives local businesses an advantage over Amazon and the like. They also offer online tracking and scheduled deliveries.

My favorite was WeDeliver, which was also the winner. Big congratulations to those folks!

After the prize was awarded, the mayor himself, Rahm Emanuel came out to say a few words (see the video).

Techweek Day 2: Mobile Prototyping

This was another Techweek Lab Coat Series Session that covered various new prototyping tools. There is a lot of activity in this are, with new products coming to market every 2-3 months. Mark Rickmeier covered a few of the newer, better ones.

The first was POP (Prototyping on Paper) where you can take pictures of hand-drawn wireframes and actually stitch together an interactive app prototype. If you want to prototype actual apps, you can use Testflight to push prototype apps directly to phones. Airplay lets you project an app demo from a phone to an Apple TV. Noteboard is a dry erase board that folds up (portable whiteboards that are about the size of an iPhone)

Techweek Day 2: Entertainment for the Masses

This was the best session of the conference so far.

Emerson Spartz says that understanding how to make things go viral is like having a superpower. Emerson came up with algorhythms for systematically making things go viral. He could successfully predict whether things would go viral within 20 minutes.

After Emerson spoke for a little, Filmmaker Casey Neistat told his story of ipodsdirtylittlesecret.com was really cool.

Emerson’s scientific approach to virality was an interesting comparison to Casey’s organic approach.

When something goes viral, it creates a lot of emotion. Virality = Emotion. The simplest ways to create emotion is through anger (e.g. injustice), cuteness, nostalgia, current events. People are always asking themselves, “Will sharing this make me look cool?” People also want to be the first one to share it (taking ownership).

Casey: “No matter how talented you are as a filmmaker, you can’t compete with a cat playing a piano.”

Emerson then riffed in response to a question about how brands can get things to go viral. To get things to go viral, ignore content. Concentrate on incentives. Bribery works better. Giving money works great. Referral programs are the simplest and most effective way to get something to be viral.

Figure out what you want people to do, then figure out what you can bribe them with (coupons, donating to charity on your behalf). Then Casey hilariously chimed in and says he hates everything Emerson is saying (partly because it is true).

The sweet spot is to couple great content with an incentive to share.

Emerson’s Greatest Hits:

  • Tweet important things 3 times, 8 hours apart.
  • Every post you make to facebook, upload a photo.
  • You will get 50-100% more engagement.
  • Short sentences.
  • Change every comma to a period.
  • No more than 2 sentences in a row.
  • Lists are magical.
  • Make your lists odd-numbered.
  • Start at the highest number and go down.
  • Put arrows before links. –> (untrains people from ignoring your links)
  • Always use a link tracker (like bit.ly) so you can track the stats

Techweek Day 2 – Labcoat Series: SEO

SEO takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. Google takes time to see the changes in your site. For smaller sites, it may take 30 days for Google to crawl the site.

Work with Google, not against them. Google is 70% of the search traffic (Bing and Yahoo! are 25%). Figure out how their algorhythm is looking at your site with Google Webmaster Tools. Look at Keyword Research to see how you rank for different terms. Use the Keyword Research Tool to see the types of searches being done. Open Site Explorer is a great tool from Moz for evaluating your link structure. Google Trends is a great tool for seeing the cycles in searches.

Google does look at links in gmail and uses them as part of the calculation for SEO ranking.

Three areas to concentrate on:

  • Popularity – Getting lots of sites to link to you
  • Authority – Get the best sites to link to you
  • Relevance – Lots of things. Content, links, keywords, titles, etc.

More is not better. Longer, more detailed content is better. Content near the top of the page is seen as more important by Google. It is better to consolidate content into a single page rather than spread across a site. Don’t kill pages, use 301 redirects instead. Don’t use the same SEO tactics on all your content, mix it up between the 350 different signals Google looks for. Consider going after ranking for localized searches.

Great stuff once again from Brent Payne. Wish these talks were an hour instead of 30 minutes so he could get in deeper.

The Sharing Economy: P2P Everything

Robin Chase, Founder & CEO, Buzzcar, Zipcar and GoLoco. People only ‘consume’ cars for an hour or two at a time. The idea is to ‘right-size’ the car economy. Unlike typical rental car companies, Zipcar trusts its users and thinks of them as collaborators.

Take a company like Skype. They are using your stuff. Your internet connection and your computer. They too are taking advantage of the sharing economy.

When launching Zipcar, Robin discovered that people hate the word sharing. This is changing. Airbnb had more rooms available 4 years after its launch than all of the Hilton Hotels chain.

There is a new partnership developing between individuals and companies. Between the local and the global. She calls it Peers Incorporated. Companies create a platform that delivers economies of scale that individuals can use to their advantage. By using the platform, the individuals enable the company to have rapid growth.

She mentioned a really cool startup I hadn’t heard of before called Fiverr, a marketplace for $5 services.

One key is to let people take advantage of excess capacity. Zipcar and Airbnb are examples of this. She said smartphones are an example too. The apps on these phones use the extra capacity of the phone and return extra revenue to companies by letting people fill them up.

Her new company, Buzzcar, lets individuals rent their cars. It also enables them to be creative in how they represent themselves and market their cars.

Techweek Day 2: How to Turn Tweets Into $$$

Some key points from the panelists (Natalia Oberti Noguera, Rick Murray, Justyn Howard and Brad Burke

  • People don’t relate to companies, they relate to people.
  • If you have a company account, also have a personal account.
  • Some companies are using Twitter as a primary customer interface.
  • Don’t chase or place too much importance on a single negative tweet.
  • Having a 5-minute response time is one thing, but having a good response is better.
  • Don’t just respond with a link, taking extra time to answer a question will create a better interaction.
  • Storytelling is compelling (more compelling perhaps that retweet to win a prize).
  • Storify is a great tool.
  • The Advanced Search in Twitter is a nice tool too.
  • Natalia Oberti Noguera’s primary advice: Be Helpful