The Next Boston-Area IPO, New Incubators, Unsung Heroes, and the Lost (& Found) Generation: 10 Tech Tidbits
As we enter the summer months, I wanted to give readers a quick look into my reporter’s notebook. I have been shifting into high gear with events and other things, but once the storm passes I’ll be writing more again. Meanwhile, I’m hearing tons of interesting stuff from the local startup and innovation community, some of which will wend its way into future stories.
But for now, here’s a sampling of what’s going on around town:
1. If you want to turn off early-stage investors, tell them your startup is “too far along” for TechStars or other incubator programs. That’s what I’m hearing from angels and micro-VCs. Xconomy will answer (or at least debate) the question, “Do you really need an incubator?” at our XSITE 2011 conference on June 16. And TechStars Boston Demo Day is the day before that.
2. The MassChallenge accelerator has come back strong in its sophomore year, with 125 startup finalists participating in mentorship programs and competing for cash prizes this fall. “We are much more effective and much better organized than last year. It will be a much more organized experience for the teams,” says MassChallenge CEO John Harthorne. “Last year, we were younger than half the teams.” (Here’s my debrief from last year’s program.)
3. Steve Case of AOL fame tweeted this week from the D9 conference: “Eric Schmidt: Gang of Four now driving consumer revolution: Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook (and they’re now worth half a trillion).” Sounds a lot like what Ted Morgan of Skyhook Wireless told me back in March: “There’s a huge platform war going on for the mobile platform. Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google are looking to carve up the world.” (Wonder if Morgan and Schmidt talked about that the last time they had dinner together—not.)
4. Speaking of AOL (and incubators), techie angel investor Roy Rodenstein, whose last startup was bought by AOL, was in Moscow this week to speak at a crash-course incubator program, called Founders Bootcamp, run by Igor Balk. It looks like Balk, a Boston-based tech entrepreneur/exec, is planning to unveil new incubators for startups in Boston and Silicon Valley soon.
5. The tech IPO market is heating up to bubblicious proportions—see Groupon, LinkedIn, and Zynga. But what about around Boston? We’ve had Zipcar go public (and SMTP in its own way), and Myriant and Kayak are in the pipeline with their S-1 paperwork filed. Who’s next—maybe HubSpot? In some cases, companies file for IPOs to drive up their acquisition price. I hear that Matrix Partners’ David Skok is the master of this tactic, among other things—and yes, he’s on HubSpot’s board.
6. Here’s a $100 million-plus-revenue, very profitable tech company in Waltham, MA, that you probably haven’t thought about lately: GSN Digital, the gaming and entertainment firm with roots from game publisher WorldWinner. Senior vice president Mark Cullinane (former chief revenue officer at Turbine) recently told me his biggest surprise in gaming was “how much Facebook was a game changer.” Now the question is whether mobile will have as big an impact: “More and more, apps are a doorway to a place where we can have a deeper customer relationship,” he said. Among GSN’s latest highlights: it’s hosting a new TV game show called Lingo, which debuts on Monday and has Web, mobile, and social tie-ins.
7. EveryScape has evolved. The Newton, MA-based maker of visual guides for local search has gone consumer on us. In April, the company released a free iOS app, called UScapeit, which allows anyone with an iPhone to capture 3-D panoramic video and share it with others via e-mail or Facebook. The goal was to generate “a broader groundswell of interest,” says CEO Jim Schoonmaker. The app got more than 20,000 downloads in its first couple weeks. Company growth is looking up too—Schoonmaker says first-quarter 2011 revenues “far outstripped all of last year.”
8. It’s not a new idea, but Eric Paley of Founder Collective thinks Boston is “getting its act together” and starting to recover from the “lost generation of entrepreneurs” (coined last year by VC Jeff Bussgang). Basically this town went from very few 20-something tech-startup folks in the past decade to a new crop of young bucks who are looking to lead their companies, many as CEOs—and this trend of founders staying on as CEOs is relatively recent too. Paley’s advice to young startups: Don’t go after a series of $5 million opportunities; think bigger, while also staying very focused.
9. Speaking of Paley, he’s doing a “Founder Dialogues” event with Andy Ory, co-founder and CEO of Bedford, MA-based Acme Packet, on June 29. Do you know Acme Packet (NASDAQ: APKT)? You should. “Session border control for unified communications and collaboration” doesn’t quite do it justice. Try $5 billion market cap, sitting at the intersection of every important trend in cloud, mobile, and networking, and also, one hell of a comeback story.
10. Andy Ory met with me over lunch recently. I asked him about the Microsoft-Skype acquisition: “It blows my mind that the largest long-distance carrier in the world is Microsoft. And, oh, by the way, they don’t own a network or any telephones here,” he said. “Really amazing, if we talk about disruption.”