Meet Awesome DC’s soulmate: Proudly Made In DC


Proudly Made in DC is a new website  recently brought to my attention by my CTO.  If you are an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and  particularly if you are a Washingtonian, you got to check them out as well as provide them with whatever support you can. Proudly Made in DC has a similar mission as my Awesome DC minus coverage  of  clubbing and partying around DC area.   The site focuses on technology and startups in the Washington, D.C. metro.  Their homepage lists all the great local startups including our own new venture, awesomize.me :-) Read more of this post

Time to support Innovation in Washington, D.C, not Milking the Government


Washington, D.C. has the money, we have the top universities, we have smart coders spin off the AOL, we are recession-proof,  we have ton of smart tech people in the region…We have all these, but why the hell have we been struggling to position Washington, D.C. as a technology hub? Although, we have Clearspring, OPower, LivingSocial, ComScore, Micros Systems, PointAbout, the creators of AppMakr and AOL, and of course awesomize.me :-) but will they be able to position DC like the way Google, Facebook, and others defined Silicon Valley?

I sort of addressed the problem back in December of last year, but I am sure there are more to this.  So, I just felt like addressing a few more challenges or obstacles hoping the local investors read this and do something about it.

We need to define DC tech scene more than just top secret clearances, government contracts and billing hours. These are NOT innovation. Clearance locks you in. Maintaining Top Secret/SCI clearance requires you to continue work in that field. You can always get reinstated, but it’s a pain. Once you get a TS job, you have strong disincentives to get out of the game.

Although, we have the largest educated population in the country and perhaps even the world, but regretfully,  it’s geared toward milking the government; not toward producing value or innovation.

Come to think of it, that’s how Yurie systems started their business – government contractor. As an employee number 8, we started milking the Pentagon by building them a proprietary video protocol to support US servicemen in Bosnia via UAV predator back in mid 90s, but then we went commercial in 97, and finally Lucent bought us in 1998 for over $1.23 B when we had the revenue of only $51 m (23x) :-)  But then again, that was the pre-bubble days :-(

As you can see, it’s going to be very difficult to build a robust high tech scene from scratch in DC area when you are competing for talent against Government contractors.

On the positive side, I believe the DC Entrepreneurial scene is definitely growing. Thanks to the Entrepreneurial programs initiatives by a few of our local universities including the George Washington University that I have been involved with, University of Maryland, DC tech event meetup, and in particular the DC Founder Institute I previously covered.

Feel free to connect with me via awesomize.me

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Is Entrepreneurship Just About the Exit?


Here is an excellent article I just read on Techcrunch written by Vivek Wadhwa, about entrepreneurs and  entrepreneurship:

David Park and Eric Bahn are earning more at their startup, called Beat The GMAT, than they ever did in the corporate world. Every penny of profit from the business goes directly into their bank accounts. They enjoy being their own bosses; have become experts in sales, marketing, customer support, computer programming and graphic design; feel good about helping students gain admission to business school; and are grateful that they can spend their time doing things rather than discussing things—because they don’t answer to anyone. Why should they sell their business and be back to working for companies like Intuit or McKinsey & Co., they ask? Read more of this post

Omidyar Network Commits $10M to White House Social Innovation Fund


Omidyar Network, the Silicon Valley philanthropic investment firm established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and wife Pam committed $10 million over two years to the White House Social Innovation Fund.

The DC-based fund, launched last year by the Corporation for National and Community Service, provides capital to expand innovative local programs that help solve critical national problems such as poverty, failing schools and childhood obesity. Read more of this post

Poor Economy + Shortage Of Entrepreneurs + Young = Jack POT (Perfect Opportunity & Timing)


by Elias Shams
Here is another awesome initiative in DC that is right up my alley. If you are an entrepreneur or student living in the DC area, you may want to put this in your calendar – Ashoka’s Youth Venture and Young Impact, in partnership with a consortium of sponsors, announce the StartUp Scramble DC University Challenge taking place January 29-31st, 2010!

If you are not an entrepreneur, I strongly urge you to consider becoming one fast – particularly if you are a student and just about to graduate. Here is Why:

a) I don’t need to remind you that the current economy and job market is pretty bleak and will probably stay this way throughout 2010. I don’t mean to be pessimistic, in fact I am a very optimistic dude. But this is real. There is no job waiting for you once you graduate. Hope it gets better in 2011.

b) There has been a major shortage of entrepreneurs in our nation’s capital and in other parts of the country these past few years.

c) You are single, with little responsibility or financial burden, so you can afford to forgo a big paycheck for a little while.
Read more…

Poor Economy + Shortage Of Entrepreneurs + Young = Jack POT (Perfect Opportunity & Timing)


Here is another awesome DC initiative that is right up my alley. If you are an entrepreneur or student living in the DC area, you may want to put this in your calendar – Ashoka’s Youth Venture and Young Impact, in partnership with a consortium of sponsors, announce the StartUp Scramble DC University Challenge taking place January 29-31st, 2010!

If you are not an entrepreneur, I strongly urge you to consider becoming one fast – particularly if you are a student and just about to graduate. Here is Why:

a) I don’t need to remind you that the current economy and job market is pretty bleak and will probably stay this way throughout 2010. I don’t mean to be pessimistic, in fact I am a very optimistic dude. But this is real. There is no job waiting for you once you graduate. Hope it gets better in 2011.

b) There has been a major shortage of entrepreneurs in our nation’s capital and in other parts of the country these past few years.

c) You are single, with little responsibility or financial burden, so you can afford to forgo a big paycheck for a little while.

Historically, when times are bad for the economy, it can be a great time to start a business. In fact, 16 of the 30 companies that make up the Dow industrial average were started during a recession or depression. These include Microsoft, Disney, McDonald’s, General Electric and Johnson & Johnson. In fact, from what I remember, Although, Google started during the glory days of late 90’s, but it really started kicking ass during the 2001 recession.

Still curious what makes it possible for new companies to thrive when times are so bad? or why should you launch your own company?
Read more…

AOL to Acquire the Brad Pitt of Social Media, Pete Cashmore


There is going to be more buzz popping out in social and online media space in our nation capital soon. It is still a rumor, but most likely it is going to happen within the next few weeks. Referring to my previous coverage comparing the Potomac River in the East with the Silicon Valley in the West, this will be an Awesome News for us.

It was just about a month ago AOL spun-off from their parent company Time Warner and went solo. It looks like they are getting off to an interesting start already. They are in talks to acquire Pete Cashmore’s company, Mashable, the popular blog that covers Web 2.0 and social media. The company or better say the blog was founded in 2005.

If this rumor turns out to be true, I have no doubt, Pete will be surrounded with more chicks in his next photo :-) Well, Good for him! Very handsome dude, why not?

I met Pete during one of his early events in London for the first time back in 2006 when his company was still based in Scotland, then in Washington, DC for the second time in another social media event. Mashable was the host. Back in 2007, they moved their headquarter to Silicon Valley, the main hub for Web 2.0 and social media.
Read more…

Washington DC Potomac River vs. California Silicon Valley

Every one is talking about change these days. As a serial entrepreneur who would like to position our nation’s capital as the technology hub and center for entrepreneurship, I have been thinking of the changes I would like to see take place.

My proposed changes are based on my educational and professional background as a Washingtonian since 1986 – working for startups like Yurie Systems (acquired by Lucent for $1.23 Billion in 1998), Newbridge Networks (acquired by Alcatel for $440 million in 1999), working for a several government contractors, and dealing with a wide range of both venture capitalists and angel investors while raising a total of $7 million for my two internet businesses B2B telecom marketplace Telezoo in 1999 and social media & search company Searchles in 2006.

Let me address the problems first before I start talking change.

If you contact our census bureau, they will tell you that DC has the second highest technology population after Silicon Valley. In addition, we have the nation’s highest concentration of advanced and post graduate degrees – meaning there are more entrepreneurs in DC with advanced degrees than in Silicon Valley. So then, why are Washingtonians not even close to Silicon Valley in terms of technology, funded startups, and investment opportunities? Three reasons:

1. Our local media companies have not been particularily supportive of the little startups these past ten years. Take the Washington Post as a classic example – they don’t provide enough coverage of our local small ventures. They mostly cover the big boys with deeper pockets, possibly in anticipation of future advertising revenue. And when they do cover a couple of the larger players like Sprint Nextel or AOL, their coverage is hardly positive. They do a good job covering government contractors though, which I think explains why 80% of all businesses in our town originate from the US government and why our government ends up buying products and services that are “proven” and have been operational for years.

The other reason I think our local media holds back from covering the little guys is their bad experience from covering startups prior to the 2001 bubble. We all know what happened then – most of them ended up shutting down. Our media may have simply concluded that it wasn’t worth their while covering startups with no future. If that is the case, it is worth noting that the same situation existed in Silicon Valley during the Web 1.0 era. But you didn’t see it stop their local media from covering the startups popping up throughout their region.

2. Our VC (Venture Capital) Community has never been as involved with their portfolio companies. Their classic mistake is asking entrepreneurs the financial and business model question during the very first meeting.

Don’t bother. Most first-time, young entrepreneurs lack business and financial experience. They typically have an idea and have built only the prototype. If interested, like most VCs in Silicon Valley, you need to a) Do your own part to evaluate the market and its potential for the product, and b) Tap into your rolodex and help them bring in the business-minded management team to execute the company’s vision. This way, the entrepreneur/founder focuses on the technology. So, spare them the business questions. Unless they intend to stay as the CEO or you intend for them to stay on as the CEO.

3. There have been only a few great local entrepreneurs from Web 1.0 era like Mark Walsh, Steve Case and Doug Humphrey helping new entrepreneurs in the Web 2.0 climate, but given the number of potential entrepreneurs our local schools – University of Maryland, the George Washington University, Virginia Tech – matriculate annually, we need many more successful mentors active in the community. This “grooming” deficit has contributed to a shortage in quality managers who are supposed to run our region’s emerging growth companies.

I believe a combination of these factors have been killing the culture of risk that existed in the 80’s and 90’s in the DC area. We tend to be more conservative on this cost anyway – it doesn’t help that a budding entrepreneur coming out of our finest universities has to weigh the benefits of operating solo in this unpromising environment with tossing his/her hat in with an established firm offering a good starting salary. Referring to my earlier comment about DC with highest concentration in the country of advanced and post graduate degrees compare to the people in Silicon Valley, think about it. Why would someone who has invested many years of his or her life in an advanced degree program, wants to risk it to start a new company as supposed to working for a well established company with a much higher pay. It is easier for a person to take such risk if he/she has not gone through all that years of schooling. just a thought.

In terms of a solution, we need some robust team work between our universities, VCs, local media, bloggers and the Gov 2.0 folks. Here is my message to each one of them:

1. Local media – in particular, the Washington Post, the Washington Times, and Washingtonians – large and small alike – need to place more value on coverage of startups. They may not have the advertising dollars to help your revenue stream initially, but with your support, many of them will in future. So, think big PLEASE. We need you as much as you need us.

2. The VC community needs to lighten focus on Excel spread sheets and la-la land exit strategies and hone in on ideas, technology, market potential and entrepreneurial je ne sais quoi. Do your homework on our inventions and craft your own analysis of its business potential. Then, use your own business and financial experience to identify key executive hires like the CEO, CFO and VP of sales. As an entrepreneur – particularly a first time entrepreneur – don’t depend on our vision of an exit strategy to close your deal. We have probably never done it, and are dreaming a Google dream on your dime.

3. Washingtonian Bloggers… if our online media and VCs drop the ball, it is your job and mine to create the buzz desperately needed by our startups – blog, baby, blog. Stay positive though. We need to work with our local universities on this.

4. Local universities – particularity the University of Maryland, the George Washington University, Virginia Tech, and George Mason University – all offer some sort of entrepreneurial program. Well, please ramp it up. I myself am a member of the GWU NAC (George Washington University National Advisory Council) and am working on several initiatives on this matter.

5. Washingtonian Gov 2.0 gurusMark Drapeau, Alec Ross, Federal CIO Vivek Kundra and Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra – you heard the problem. There’s a way to figure out how Gov 2.0 efforts and initiatives can fundamentally shake up DC’s startup environment, and there are some best-practice examples across the country for you to draw on. Do it quickly and efficiently please. Our region needs an injection of entrepreneurial opportunity, fast.

I look forward to working with all of you to make our nation’s capital a truly Awesome technology town.

For start, someone has to tell our DC CTO, Chris Willey to smile a little bit when giving speech in front of a large audience or speak with enthusiasm as supposed to putting them to sleep :-)

Feel free to connect with me via awesomize.me

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