Steal this idea
The Colorado Software and Internet Association threw its annual DEMOgala at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Denver in October, featuring 40 speakers and panelists as well as a dozen lunchtime demos by tech startups from Colorado and elsewhere.
"Oftentimes in Denver, we think we're not as good as fill-in-the-blank city," said CSIA President Su Hawk in her remarks at the luncheon, touting the best-in-the-nation performance of local startups that applied to the Founders Institute accelerator. "We're not - we're actually better."
Beyond Colorado's superlative status, there was plenty else to glean from the day's panels and speakers, including the following five lessons for this young century.
Lesson #1: IT workers are still in demand
"You can't talk about jobs without talking about GDP," said Brent Rasmussen, president, North America at CareerBuilder.com, citing the weak-but-positive numbers this year. "It's not wild growth, but it is growth, and when GDP grows, jobs follow."
The good news? The economy created about 100,000 new jobs per month in 2010. And the bad? It needs to create 150,000 new jobs every month just to keep pace with new entrants into the work force and keep unemployment stable.
Regardless, the number of IT jobs in Colorado actually grew more than any other state from 2007 to 2010, although at a quasi-anemic 2.2 percent rate. "But that still beats California," Rasmussen said. The top IT skills for 2011 are programming and application development, IT project management, tech support, networking and security.
"People always ask me, ‘What field should my 16-year-old junior go into?'" he said. "Health care's a good answer, but tech is where the biggest growth will be. You'll have a job in the United States for a long time."
Lesson #2: Stealing works
Fabrice Grinda, co-CEO of OLX, spoke about "Combating Incumbents." Describing himself as "a professional thief," Grinda said, "If you look at Picasso and Matisse, they stole from each other all the time."
What Grinda does is take ideas and port them to new markets. He described his first startup, Aucland, as the eBay for southern Europe. His second company, Zingy, sold ringtones in the U.S. after he saw companies doing so in Europe. His current startup, OLX, is "basically Craigslist 2.0 for the rest of the world."
"Copying actually works," Grinda said. "Facebook was inspired by Friendster and MySpace. Other search sites came before Google. International idea arbitrage - because stealing doesn't sound good - actually works."
"Creativity's overrated," he added. "It's all about iteration."
Lesson #3: The value of user-generated content is under debate
During the "All You Need is the Net!" panel, Drew Massey and Krista Marks, the respective founders of ManiaTV and Kerpoof, disagreed on the value of user-generated content. "Barry Diller said it best: ‘There are only so many talented people,'" Massey remarked, noting that big pharma won't advertise on YouTube. "You still need that filter."
"It's about democracy," Marks countered. "It's not an either-or; eBay did not replace Christie's. I think there's room for both."
The topic arose again in a later panel, "Disruptive Media and Publishing," when Micah Baldwin, CEO of digital comics startup Graphic.ly, and Jonathan Boutelle, CTO of San Francisco-based Slideshare, and Donna Wells, CEO of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Mindflash, discussed the topic.
After Wells cited a "second-order effect" from the crowd-as-curator phenomenon and Boutelle tabbed Facebook and Twitter as "the new taste-makers," Baldwin offered a contrary view. "People who create content for a living view their content as art and as quality and want to be remunerated for their work. The question is how can we take the curation and the ability to distribute for free and attach revenue to the creators themselves?"
"Fame is great, but it won't buy me milk," he added. "As soon as you make it free, it's free. It's worthless."
Lesson # 4: Put a human face on your website
Patrick Bultema, CEO of Colorado Springs-based CodeBaby, discussed "Decoding Customer Behavior Online."
"We are at the very beginning of understanding the way humanity and the digital world go together," Bultema began. "We are maybe 5 percent of the way to understanding. There are some interesting innovations coming in understanding customer behavior, particularly in the neuroscience field.
"We make our best decisions when there's a subtle interplay between intuition, instinct, emotion and reason," he said. "You have to figure out how you're going to engage your customers online on an intuitive, emotional level and not just a rational one.
"At key points, we try to get face to face with customers. We know there's something dramatic that happens. But how can we bottle the qualities of face to face? The gold standard has been the TV commercial." Bultema played a Hallmark commercial that indeed jerked a few tears from the crowd.
Conversely, he added, "The Internet is infinitely interactive but has few mechanisms to make a human-style interaction. There's an obvious question: Why don't you just play TV commercials online? Because it's completely out of context."
The difference is the audience's state of mind: television's "transfixed gaze" versus the "highly activated state" online. "It's frenetic," said Bultema of the latter. "It's look, look, look, look, click. You must respect this highly activated state, but we've got to change to something that engages in a more human way."
Lesson #5: Make social media work at work
The last panel of the day hit on the future of social media in the enterprise. "Everybody knows they need to be social, but they don't know what that means," said Christine Herrington, vice president of SeoSkye, a Denver-based online marketing agency. "We find companies aren't really engaging their customers."
Added Tom Chikoore, the Boulder-based founder of Filtrbox and now senior project manager for Jive Software, "It's important to understand what value you want to get from social media. Is it brand enhancement? Is it getting ideas from the crowd? Is it customer service?"
After an attendee asked the panel members if they saw Facebook as a drag on workplace productivity, Michael Clark, co-founder of Denver-based SafetyWeb, answered, "I like to make the analogy of making personal calls in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but the line when work ends has blurred so much. I'm working and answering the phone well after five."