Atlanta, FeatureFrame, Technology, WeTheCitizens

Startup Riot is HUGE for Atlanta

Startup Riot will rock Atlanta on May 19th, 2008.  ~70 startups will have 3 minutes each to pitch themselves before an audience of other startups and prospective investors, employees and customers.  Bilgistic creator Sanjay Parekh has been a force in organizing this event, recruiting his high-school colleague Drew Curtis of Fark.com as the keynote speaker, and getting more than 70 regional startups signed up to pitch.

Atlanta has had several cool startup community events.  TAG‘s annual business launch competition is underway again, Atlanta Startup Weekend launched Skribit, and we have had awesome unconferences such as 2 years of SoCon and last year’s BarCamp Atlanta.

What sets Startup Riot apart is that it is ORIGINAL and UNIQUE.  I haven’t heard of ANY other cities hosting events where an early stage company can pitch their company to investors and customers for FREE.  Sanjay has certainly been working hard to make the event happen, and the costs seem to already be covered by sponsors.  It is an event I can see other cities copying, and it’s starting here in Atlanta.

Of course I have a vested interest in Startup Riot.  My previous startup, WeTheCitizens. will be pitching.  I’ll be pitching (for a whopping 3 minutes)  FeatureFrame, a video platform for independent film-makers and commercial content-producers, but I’m also interested in the community aspects.  Many, many startups that I know of will be using this event as a major catalyst for them to build their pitch and move their business forward.  I can’t wait to hear about what dozens of other Atlanta startups are working on, and for Atlanta to pioneer an event that other cities will undoubtedly look to reproduce.

Uncategorized, WeTheCitizens

Amazon Content Delivery Network Web Service?

Content Delivery Networks (CDN) such as Akamai and Atlanta’s own Internap handle the problem of delivering content (especially large content), handling all of the scalability and geographical delivery optimization. This market has become fairly commoditized, and since it requires huge investment in hardware in many locations and software to glue it together, new competition in this market would seem unlikely.

Amazon Web Services just announced the innocuously named Elastic IP Addresses and EC2 Availability Zones.  Elastic IP lets you associate a static IP address with an individual EC2 instance – slick.  “Availability Zones” effectively let you deploy your apps into different “zones” (probably different physical data centers) to protect against outages in a single “zone” or the internet around that “zone”.  This feature also supports regions, currently only us-east is available.

Where this gets interesting is when they add some more regions.  Amazon promises faster performance between servers in the same zone, so it seems necessary that at some point,  they’ll ensure that you can load your S3 content from the same zone your server’s in.  So now you have a geographically distributed network of servers that can delivery large amounts of content and handle any spikes in server or bandwidth demand.  Hmm… sounds like a CDN.  You can imagine someone building an entirely new CDN based entirely on Amazon Web Services (or should we call it SkyNet?).  Or is this the beginning of Amazon exposing the internal plumbing they’re putting in place to make S3 itself behave more like a CDN?

SkyNet (AWS) just keeps getting more interesting.  At least until it becomes sentient and sends an army of giant robot dogs after us.

Atlanta, Premiere, Technology, WeTheCitizens

The Seas of Job Change – Wrapping up at WeTheCitizens

18 Months ago, I left a transitional role with Proficient/LivePerson to head up the development team at WeTheCitizens. In that time, we scaled the Wildfire platform from running a single gubernatorial campaign to a true SaaS platform that successfully ran for Rudy Giuliani and scales well to holding many national customers concurrently. It’s been quite a ride, filled with all of the highs and lows you could imagine. One of my fondest yet most stressful memories is working until 2 AM on a customer launch, waking up at 5 AM to catch a plane, and spending the morning calling back and forth to Atlanta as our production servers bounced up and down as the team in Atlanta discovered critical issues and bounced the server to apply fixes. Probably 5 minutes before we started training individual users, the system was stable enough to stay up, and the training and launch went great, thanks to an awesome technical team. I’ve worked with some of the best folks a startup could ask for, and I think we’ve accomplished a lot to be proud of. I’ve had great opportunities to expand my involvement in the Atlanta startup community, and met many more incredible people.

With these expanding horizons, came a conflict. There are a number of things I’d like to pursue, but trying to do to much “on the side” while serving in a startup VP role AND pursuing an MBA only comes at the expense of the MBA or the startup.  Testing the waters of any new venture while already in such a role is difficult at best. It’s been a great chapter at WeTheCitizens, and I it’s an opportune time to move on to new things – the team there is poised to thrive without even missing a beat. I’d like to explore some opportunities to co-found a new company.  I have a few ideas of my own I’d like to explore, build, and see if they get traction.  I’d love to take more of the load of Skribit development of of Calvin.  I’d love to explore leadership roles in some other local, fast-growing, young companies.  In leaving WeTheCitizens, I was trying to walk a fine line of finding a role that provided interesting work and long-term potential without conflicting with these other interests.

I found all of that and more in a contract position with Premiere Global (fondly locally known as Ptek), where I’ll be starting on Monday.  The project is important and interesting (I’ll share as much as I can, when I can – strategic projects at public companies can be a bit more sensitive than startup progress), we’ll be building a high-quality development team (solid Java resumes/referrals welcome), and we’ll be building a massively scalable system.  There’s potential for a longer-term position, but the contract nature of the position also affords a more natural boundary between day-job and other interests.  I’ve decided not to take any MBA classes this summer, freeing up some more time.  I’ll have time to pursue a number of different projects that have eluded me recently.  Six months from now, I’ll be in a far better position to decide what my next big step is.  Expect this blog to get a bit schizophrenic.  The role with Premiere is a good bit of hands-on development, so I’ll be sharing some nuggets that will help Java people.  I’ll be a bit more public and promotional with some of my other projects, which will be fun.  I think I’ll be just as busy, but with a much more diverse array of tasks on my plate.

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Now playing: The Doors – The End
via FoxyTunes

Politics, Technology, WeTheCitizens

Giuliani Campaign Post-Mortem

Some time tonight, the social action network we at WeTheCitizens built for Rudy Giuliani will be replaced with a splash page thanking his supporters and endorsing John McCain.  This news should surprise nobody at this time, but this moment in the life of our company merits some reflection.  It marks not the end, but the beginning of a new era where our new customers, including one entering beta on Monday, can benefit from the maturation of our Wildfire platform during the Giuliani engagement.

We signed with the Giuliani campaign at a time when he topped the polls at 36+%.  It was a challenge we had been preparing for since November 2006 – after finishing our engagement with Georgia governor Sonny Perdue, we began building out features and scaling the platform to meet the needs of a national customer, a challenge that had many twists and turns, but ultimately resulted in us building out a rocking production cluster with a bunch of architecture enhancements to handle 170 million voters and orders of magnitude more supporters.

Even if they took a few hits in the media early-on for their lack of a social presence,  the Giuliani eCampaign staff deserves a great deal of credit for their understanding and usage of our platform as a social tool to advance their campaign.  Bill Skelly, Katie Harbath, Ted Jarrett, and many other staffers who I didn’t interact with directly deserve high praise, and I hope they are not out of work for long.  They pushed us to grow the platform, but in ways that forced us to be creative, to build a better product.  They were one of the best customers I have had the privilege of serving.  They made the most of each feature we delivered to them, and kept feeding the community with new content, new challenges, and new actions to help their candidate win.  They used our Wildfire product to continue growing their online supporter base, even as his offline support dwindled.  They understand the future of social advocacy.

But how to explain the precipitous decline in Rudy’s poll numbers?  Many blame the strategy of bypassing the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, in favor of focusing on Florida, where Rudy was most likely to win, and using that win to build momentum into Super Tuesday.  Let me first say that the primary process as it stands is senseless to me.  The inexplicable favored position of NH and IA builds “momentum” from states that are not representative of the nation as a whole.  The winner-takes-all-delegates approach in many primaries and general election disproportionately rewards a candidate who can get a plurality of votes.  That said, I’m doubtful that the strategy was the real issue.  I think that the idea of Rudy is more interesting than the reality of Rudy.  Read his book, read a quote, hear stories about Rudy, and you believe he is a great leader – I still do.  But somehow, every time I heard him speak, my confidence faltered, I thought less of his candidacy.  My theory on his decline is that 6 months out of the election, voters liked the idea of voting for Mayor Giuliani, but as the primaries neared and voters really began considering their choice, close examination of Rudy left them feeling like they needed to find another option.

With Giuliani out of the race, I can take a brief moment to declare my support for Congressman Ron Paul.  Being politically opinionated in a company with political customers can be a challenging position.  I can confidently say that we all gave our best professional effort to Mayor Giuliani regardless of our personal political affiliations.  I can dig into presidential politics a bit more soon.

Technology, WeTheCitizens

Mashable says Team Rudy “doesn’t suck”

Normally, I’d be fairly bummed if someone’s response to our software was “It doesn’t suck”. Mashable’s review of Team Rudy, which runs on the Wildfire platform we’ve built at WeTheCitizens, says precisely this, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Once Mark Hopkins gets through panning most presidential campaigns’ social web presences, he goes on to say, “[Giuliani] has one thing that few other candidates have presently: a kick-ass social network… and I’ve got to be honest: although I’m not a Giuliani supporter, this thing almost makes me want to be one.” I’ve heard this several times since we launched – even people who don’t have strong ties to Rudy have been drawn in and found the site addictive. The people who really do support Mayor Giuliani? Well, they’re really using the heck out of the site.  Two prolific users already have a personal teams of 131 other users, other users have shot up the rankings by bringing several rock star supporters into the network.  In just 2 weeks, the best supporters have already made half the “personal impact” that our best users from the Perdue campaign made in several months.
Thanks in particular to the Giuliani Team, who have helped tremendously by finding creative new ways to keep the application fresh, give supporters plenty to do, and really bring our software to life.

Technology, WeTheCitizens

We Launched Rudy Giuliani’s “Social Mobilization” Network

Team Rudy launched last week as an online community and activity hub for Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign (coverage at TechPresident and The Blog Street Journal. We at WeTheCitizens are very excited to be involved in promoting the leading Republican candidate using our Social Mobilization technology. The social networking aspects of our product are sufficient to let supporters join, invite their friends, and engage and communicate with the online community, but where I am most excited about our product in action is where we’re combining activity from our site, their site, and the offline world to quantify how much a user’s volunteer efforts are worth to the campaign. Up until this point, the campaign has been making very effective use of the staff-facing application to coordinate voter and supporter outreach activities (scaling the app to handle robust outreach to 170 million registered voters has been a very compelling engineering effort), but it’s very exciting to be able to highlight the supporter side of our software that and of my friends, family, and readers can use.

In our engagement with Governor Sonny Perdue, the product was used effectively as a loose integration between a CRM system and a social network, but the latest version of our product is becoming something fundamentally different. We’ve given our customers greater freedom to motivate their supporters to help, and reward and recognize those contributions. They can use the volunteer opportunities that are built into our product, and augment that with any other volunteer opportunities that they want. The supporter network is increasingly about giving people opportunities to help our customers’ cause and motivate their friends to do so as well, and less about online chatting and other social network fluff.
We have at least a couple more customer launches in the months ahead, and I look forward to highlighting the unique ways they use our platform to draw users in through their social relationships, engage them in a variety of volunteer activities, recognize their biggest supporters, and leverage that information for even more effective results.

Technology, WeTheCitizens

WeTheCitizens Corporate Web Site Live!

My company, WeTheCitizens, just launched our new web site. It represents our launch into the 2008 election cycle. With all the buzz over Obama‘s Social Network, and token offerings from John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, we’re in a great spot to bring our evolution of social networking to campaigns across the country.  It’s clear that social networking and media will play a significant role in our next elections.

I’m planning to post a roundup/review of the social networks that the candidates have in place thus far, but for now, check out our new site – it does a good job of explaining what we’re all about.