Category Archives: Blacksburg Start-ups

Periscope Isn’t airbnb, Or: Don’t Suck

Can we all agree that Periscope is a sad train wreck? I think we can.**

I was on vacation last week. I checked Twitter on Wednesday, saw that CoLab had tweeted that they were broadcasting XpoWednesday LIVE! on Periscope, and didn’t consider for even one second wasting data clicking the link.

No reflection on CoLab or XpoWednesday…it is just that watching anything on Periscope is boring and painful. Meerkat isn’t any better. The technology promises to put you LIVE! in the experience, but it doesn’t and can’t.

The problem is one of curation. A live feed is inherently boring.

Consider this anecdote about airbnb: when they first launched, they had real trouble attracting users. And what they realized after soliciting feedback is that the site was unappealing because all the posts of available lodgings featured poor quality cell phone photos. So, they took a chance and hired professional photographers to go around and photograph available places. A few multi-billion dollar valuations later, that gamble seems to have paid off.

At the time, though, hiring professional photographers could have appeared like throwing good money after bad. Which is to say, airbnb sucked and pouring more money into that “bad” idea was sort of crazy. Yet, it worked. Not because the concept or technology got better, but because the content did.

The analog to Periscope? Actually, there isn’t one. Sorry, Periscope, your technology isn’t worthwhile. Because what is needed to save Periscope is an editing suite to merge multiple live streams into one coherent whole. We call that “television.” And while live streaming is cheap and boring, live television is compelling but hella expensive, y’all. That expense doesn’t come in to the equation because of the technology, it is because you need talented professionals to do the editing, in real time. Talented professionals are precisely the people cut out of amateur live streaming.

So why this discussion? Because I think it illustrates a really simple, basic (and you would think obvious) truth of the new online economy we find ourselves navigating like Vasco da Gama, with confidence and purpose yet without certainty as to exactly where it is we are going to end up. If you want to make it, your content MUST be either wanted or needed, and it must be good.

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Periscope does such a bad job providing a good version of something people want (a live experience) given its association with Twitter, considering Twitter’s bad job of providing a good version of something people need (a real-time news outlet).

“Need” is an elastic term, but think about IMDb. IMDb is the gold standard, a site everyone uses and treats practically like a like a public utility. You’ve got a question about who was in a movie? You go to IMDb. You don’t go anywhere else. Ever. They are accurate and reliable and everyone knows where to go. Easy. They provide exactly the service you need for the specific purpose for which they exist.

Compare that to Periscope. Why would you open Periscope? That is not a rhetorical question. You go to IMDb with a purpose in mind. You go to Facebook with a purpose (baby pictures and vacation pictures, amiright?). You go to Reddit with a purpose (kill time/learn weird shit). And then you visit those 10 different sites you check because they feature your other interests (ESPN for sports, Car and Driver if you are into cars, whatever…you know what your interests are).

Ok, so, why would you use Periscope? The promise is compelling live content — in a nutshell, whatever you click on should be interesting. However, the reality is almost NOTHING on Periscope is interesting, and even those events that could be interesting are poorly shot and have bad sound quality.

Some people might say YouTube started out with bad quality content and turned out pretty okay, and they’d be right, but the technology already existed before the site launched to create good content, e.g. editing software. You can’t make live content “good” in the moment without a trained team of editing professionals. You know, like tv.

A really interesting comparison is to Twitch. Twitch is also a live streaming platform, but with a built-in content advantage: video games. There are millions of gamers around the globe, whereas all the streamers on Periscope who broadcast the contents of their refrigerators (really, that is a thing) have no built in audience at all.

Nobody wants this product.

And that is why I wanted to write about it. Sadly, there are a number of start-ups locally that are facing this problem. There isn’t any need to name names. But there is a need for soul searching. These local guys don’t have API problems or UI problems, they have “why?” problems. “Why would anyone visit your site or use your service?” is a much more clarifying question for a start-up than “Is there an unmet need?” Even if you are correct that there really is a need, that doesn’t mean the product you hope to build is going to properly address it.

Took me almost a thousand words to come around to the point…maybe I’m a bit too polite. I don’t want to just come out and say, “hey bro, everything you’ve been working on is kinda shitty.” So I’ve illustrated the point with a big dumb startup far away from us. The idea that if you build something “cool” people will show up just isn’t true; there are simply too many options out there. Cool is a starting point, not a destination.

**So, in an interesting twist, just an hour after I originally posted this, I got some feedback from a regular reader letting me know that she sometimes enjoys watching the occasional stream on Periscope, specifically from people working in television and radio. Let me therefore slightly revise my thesis: Periscope can be used to some decent effect by media professionals, especially when supplementing their other media efforts, like a radio host broadcasting what is going on live in studio. It can be done. However, that isn’t the norm and is in fact a very small, very specific subset of streams.

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Filed under Blacksburg Start-ups, Pointless musings, Roanoke Start-ups

Throttle!

Is Mindsense a start-up? I mean, they aren’t Microsoft, but they’re pretty well established…

Hell, they’re local. Let’s write about ’em.

They have a new product in soft launch called Throttle. I’m not going to explain it, because you can just click the link. Click it. Just CLICK IT! Jeez…you know I can see the metrics on the back-end, right? I know when you’ve read something and I know when you click stuff. CLICK IT.

Ok. I know you aren’t going to click it. So here’s the thing: Mindsense is trying to save email. They have Mail Pilot and now they have Throttle. And I like email. I know most people hate email, and it isn’t a perfect communication medium, but now that stamp-and-envelope letters are dead, it is really all we have left.

To quote Win Butler, “it may seem strange how we used to wait for letters to arrive, but what’s stranger still is how something so small can keep you alive.”

I don’t know…maybe I should hate email. The immediacy of it. No forethought, no effort. Reduced humanity.

What was I talking about? Oh, yeah, Throttle.

It is cool, I guess. Whatever. Click the link.

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Hokies Funding Distant Hokies

Wuz gud, homies?

VT Investor Network has made their initial investment. Bully for them.

This is a group of “Hokies” (a Hokie is a thing or whatever, and the appellation is applied to students and alumni of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute) that have banded together to form an angel investment partnership with the avowed purpose of funding projects and start-ups founded by other Hokies.

An investment partnership invests money to make money, mmmkay? We all understand this. Bitches got to be on they grind. So it isn’t really fair to criticize these guys for making their first investment in the most promising venture they could find.

But I’m going to criticize them anyway: why couldn’t you all have made your first investment in a promising company that is headquartered at or near Virginia Tech? If you really want to help Hokies, invest in the community that supports current students and produces future alumni.

Please understand, I’m not hating on ThreatQuotient or your dumb investment group. All I’m saying is, you know what community isn’t hurting for start-up capital? Dulles.

…and that’s all I’m gonna say, mmmkay?

Go Hokies.

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The Little Coworking Space That Could: the “unpublishable first draft” edition

You’re about to read a list.

MovelineThe Black Sheep; Heyo; BeHealth SolutionsVirtualU; Marketing Stick; Skill-capped; Ace of Sales; Rural System and Koofers.

What do these have in common? They are all IT start-ups and alumni of TechPad in Blacksburg. There are actually many more companies listed, but they either didn’t have clickable links from TechPad’s member page or the links were dead.

Even if you don’t know anything about these companies or their viability, that is a pretty impressive list.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. It would be tempting but lazy to compare TechPad with CoLab in Roanoke and say, “See! Blacksburg is a more natural fit for tech start-ups; just look at that long list and compare to the – shall we say – meager start-up offerings on tap at CoLab!”

That would be a jerk thing to do, though, because all indications are that CoLab really is succesful. They don’t turn paying members away at the door just because their business ideas don’t revolve around disruption and/or unicorns (those are buzzwords, y’all). CoLab is a place for all kinds of workers and small businesses. It’s inclusive!

So, yeah, why AM I writing about TechPad…maybe if I keep tapping away at the keyboard there will be magic. Beep boop bop boop beep…

Nothing yet…

Oh, I know: coworking. Yeah…yeah!

Here’s the thing, right, about coworking or whatever:

:::

:::fuck it, I lost my train of thought.

Did I mention that I hit my head doing pull-ups at the gym tonight? True story. I pulled my head right up into the bar. And I’ve got beastly strength, too. Probably gave myself brain damage like a boss.

Write more tomorrow? Question mark…

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Filed under Blacksburg Start-ups, Coworking, Pointless musings

I guess you HAVE heard of Riff…

Judging by the increase in traffic on the site following the post about Riff, I’d say that was a fairly popular topic.

So two quick points. First, the whole reason I started this blog was to highlight local start-ups because nobody else seemed to be doing that. If stories like this find an audience, then I feel like that validates my premise that this really is an unfilled niche. So congrats to me. And you’re welcome.

Second, listen up Riff. Here’s a story about me growing up in West Philadelphia using your app: I worked hard to craft the PERFECT “riff” – believe me, it was great – sent it to my friend and waited for him to respond positively. I was expecting hilarity to ensue. Instead I got back this:

photoSo there you have it, indisputable proof that confused people named Chandler think you purvey pornography. I hope you can live with yourselves.

And no, that does not say more about me than it does about you.

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Filed under Blacksburg Start-ups, Start-up culture

Have You Heard of Riff?

Riff could be the NEXT BIG THING!!!

I don’t really know anything about that…I just believe in hype.

So, Riff is a “music messaging” app, allowing users to send a 20-second music clip and an optional picture to any contact in their phone. It is pretty cool, though, honestly, totally frivolous. But most apps are, so who am I to say anything? Frivolity rules. Oh, and like Snapchat, these messages self-destruct, so enjoy the hell out of those 20 seconds while you can.

Having apparently grown out of an Entrepreneurial Club meeting at Virginia Tech, the founders of Riff are sticking to tried-and-true marketing methods to spread the word: hotties in their tumblr posts. Not gonna lie, I appreciate that, and I think their target demographic will as well.

I’ll report back as I continue to use the app. They are currently in Beta, and I’m not sure what full functionality will look like, but “local boys release cool app” is always a story worth pushing. Let’s keep an eye out and see where they take this.

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Filed under Blacksburg Start-ups, Start-up culture