Photos by Michael Myers
As a who’s who of the Colorado tech community noshed on breakfast the morning of Oct. 25, former Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy took to the stage at the Sheraton Downtown Denver and delivered the keynote speech for the 8th annual DEMOgala, the Colorado Technology Association’s big annual event.
Steve Foster, president and CEO of the CTA, said 2012 was a banner year for DEMOgala. “We’re well over 30 percent growth over last year,” Foster said of attendance. The number of exhibitors jumped from 31 in 2011 to 55 in 2012, he added. “The amount of activity is ridiculously bigger than last year.”
McNealy was in the Mile High City as the event’s keynote speaker, but also to help launch Wayin, a new social-media startup. (He’s chairman of the company.) After rattling off a top-10 list detailing why Colorado is a better place to do business than California, McNealy said that entrepreneurs should not shy from controversy. “If you don’t have a controversial strategy, you have no chance,” he said. “The bigger the opportunity, the more controversial you have to be. But you have to be correct. I can’t help you with that.”
But even the biggest and best opportunities need execution, and for that you need the biggest and best leadership. “You can’t really create leaders, you have to identify them, and I think the same goes for entrepreneurs,” said McNealy, paraphrasing former General Electric CEO Jack Welch. “Who would have thought Steve Jobs would have been a leader?”
But good leaders can’t always be about work. They should also be “a little corny,” he added. “When you have a startup, you do more with that than you do anything. So you’ve got to have fun. Having fun is an order. You must have fun.”
McNealy also vented on education – a system he said he views as broken in the U.S. He said young people often waste some of their best years on campus. “A degree matters? No, youth matters.”
A startup ecosystem requires a culture that melds competition and cooperation, he added. “Everybody should be buying from each other. You’ll help each other out, and you’ll also network with each other. This event is a very powerful opportunity. We need to cheer each other on and help each other out.”
Beyond the main stage and the exhibit floor, DEMOgala featured a dozen breakout sessions covering all things tech.
A few highlights:
“Gone are the days of working from 8 to 5,” said Adam Boushie, territory manager for Google. “You work like you live, and that’s what we’re trying to do with Google Docs. People are looking to get out of what isn’t core to their businesses to free up resources.”
“We had a bunch of people asking about collaboration,” recalled Aaron Hesse, director of IS strategy for Sports Authority. Google Docs was selected as a solution because of its breadth. “If we start looking at this with a holistic approach, we can bring this all onto one platform.” There has been a learning period for employees, he added, noting, “Every day we get a few more a-ha’s.
“I don’t know what’s going to be next, but I want a system that can anticipate and evolve with us. I don’t think our old systems could do that,” he added.
Cutting-Edge Marketing Technologies
Mike McKinnon, senior manager of marketing operations at Denver-based Web-conferencing provider ReadyTalk, says integration is a big buzzword. “The new trend is to have an open API on everything. Everything is integrated. You’re accelerating everything through the pipeline.”
Tone down the sales pitch and focus on good information for potential customers, he added. “Relevant content is how to get above the noise – relevant content that’s not sales-y at all.”
When it comes to channels like blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, consistency is king, McKinnon added. “The general guideline is to have a consistent presence across all of these channels. Eventually, it starts to gain traction. It’s a long slog.”
Gamification: How it will change the way we work
Morgan Lynch founded LogoWorks in 1999, which crowdsourced logos from graphic designers before the term crowdsourcing even existed.
Gamification – “the use of game mechanics in a non-game context” – was the key to compensation. Designers were paid whether their logo was chosen or not, but “cash is a terrible motivator,” said Lynch. “It doesn’t work long-term.” A point system that gamified logo design proved a better motivator. “People ranked each other,” he said. “Even if the customer didn’t pick it, your peers would.”
Now with his new Bluffdale, Utah-based startup, Needle, Lynch “fan-sources” customer service for websites. “We let our clients’ best customers sell to their next customers,” he explained. “You want to buy scuba gear? You want to talk to someone who has done 200 dives.” Like LogoWorks, Needle employs gamification in the form of a point system to help motivate employees, and then they can use the point to buy products.
“This is very efficient and very scalable,” Lynch said. “We get to bring work that’s being sent offshore back to the United States.”
Held in three sessions on the main stage, the DEMO Challenge included 4-minute pitches from 18 companies competing for a $25,000 prize. The big winner was Boulder-based Otixo (www.otixo.com).
Dubbing itself as “Your Dashboard for the Cloud,” Otixo allows users to better organize and share files across multiple cloud-based systems with a single username and password.
Gamma Two Robotics: security robots, Denver, www.gamma-two.com
concept3D: develops interactive 3-D environments, Boulder, www.concept3d.com
Cruxly: social media analysis, Boulder, www.cruxly.com
LegiNation: online legislation tracker, Denver, www.billtrack50.com
SimPlay Sports: fantasy play calling system, www.simplaysports.com
Dizzion: BYOD service, Denver,
Ibotta: mobile coupon app, Denver, ibotta.com
Tugboat: digital marketing service, Denver, www.tugboat.io
Closely: offering Perch, an app for businesses to manage social media, Denver, www.closely.com
EarthvisonZ: 3-D mapping technology, Boulder, www.earthvisonz.com
iGivefirst: the makers of the contextually relevant “Give” button, Denver, www.igivefirst.com
nuMVC: intelligent content platform, Denver, www.numvc.com
SympIT: social network for IT workers, Denver, sympit.sympsocial.com
Shredded Steeze: video platform
for extreme-sports content, Boulder,
U Grok It: RFID inventory
management system, Steamboat Springs, www.ugrokit.com
KidReports: childcare app, Denver, www.kidreports.com
HiDef: game app that teaches handwriting to youngsters, Denver,
The annual Apex Awards honored Colorado’s top tech innovators and leaders at a dinner that kicked off DEMOgala the night before the main event. And the winners were …
Technology Teacher of the Year:
Debbie Richards, Evergreen Middle School and Debbie Tawzer, Legend High School
Technology Entrepreneur of the Year:
Bart Lorang, CEO, FullContact
Technology Project of the Year:
Technology Company of the Year: Mercury (www.mercurypay.com)
Bob Newman Lifetime Achievement Award: Nancy Sauer
Invest4Tech debuts in Aurora schools
Invest4Tech is the Colorado Technology Association’s mentoring program that kicked off in 2012 with Aurora Public Schools. The mission? To demolish the so-called “Colorado Paradox”: Colorado is one of the most educated states, but it imports most of our talent.
At DEMOgala, Aurora Public Schools Superintendent John Barry said a public-private partnership is necessary to educate the workforce of tomorrow. “We no longer can do this alone. The 21st-century educational model requires a partnership like we’ve never seen.”
The Invest4Tech program “was not a field trip,” he added. “This was a true partnership with Noodles, Chipotle and MapQuest.”
Fireside Chat: Unlikely Starts
Jim Franklin, CEO of SendGrid, led off the chat with a lesson from the trenches. Many analysts expected Amazon to eat SendGrid’s lunch when it entered the cloud-based email space. That wasn’t the case. “It turned out to be awesome,” said Franklin. It broadened the market, and SendGrid’s premium offerings meant many new customers subsequently “upgraded” from Amazon to SendGrid. “That’s the key to opportunities – when you see things others don’t,” Franklin said. SendGrid now has 100 employees and opened an office in LoDo in Denver in October.
Photobucket CIO Mike Clark described a lukewarm reception to the launch of the website, now home to more than 10 billion photos. “People kept calling them crazy,” he said. “But it has to be unthinkable. Otherwise 100 people are doing it.”
CTA President and CEO Steve Foster said hiring the right people is a key to success with Business Controls, a SaaS provider he launched in 1994. “You want to surround yourself with really great people, but that’s where it begins, not where it ends. You want to surround yourself with really great dialogue.”
Serial entrepreneur Mike Stemple, founder and CEO of Golden-based startup Mosoro, says his custom Skinit cell phone cases provoked quite a reaction from some potential investors in the mid-1990s. “One big VC told me to ‘F-ing get out of the room!’” he recalled with a laugh. His redemption came in the form of CC’ing the nameless non-investor on a press release when Skinit later closed on $60 million.