INNOVATION

  • A LOT CAN HAPPEN IN 14 MONTHS…WHAT WILL YOU DO?

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Kansas City, Life Lessons, Sprint Accelerator

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    I woke up unaided this morning at 6am (that’s unusual for me…I generally battle my alarm clock starting at 6:30 and it finally wins by around 7).  Today is Demo Day for the first ever Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator powered by Techstars class.  It has been a thrilling 90 days and I’ve learned so much, worked with amazing people and will dearly miss every single one of them…but that’s a topic for another day.

    What got me out of bed this morning was reflecting on what got us to this point.  It was fun for me to look back on this post from April 4th, recapping a 10 day journey that would forever change my career and my life.  On the flight home from Portland, I wrote two blog posts and put together a pitch deck that became the foundation for what would eventually become the Sprint Accelerator.  Kevin McGinnis (who is now my boss) was the first recipient of this presentation and eventually would refine this pitch and get it pushed through the executive ranks of Sprint, all the way up to our CEO Dan Hesse.

    It wasn’t just that…  A switch had been flipped on that trip.  I wasn’t interested in sitting at a desk any more and my day job that was truly amazing at one point in life seemed dull.  I did enough to not get fired during the week but nights and weekends were mine.  In that time I attended Startup Weekend and joined in on two other hack-a-thons.  I took a cross-country trip from San Francisco back home to KC with new friends, filming a documentary on technology along the way.  I was asked to speak multiple times with internal teams on innovation and I eventually launched HackFriday, bringing the magic of rapid prototyping/customer validation inside the walls of our corporation.

    I don’t know what’s to come but there’s one person who continues to stand by me through what I’ve referred to as my early life crisis.  My wife Stacey has been supportive through my ups and downs.  Working outside of the lines has moments of mania and depression….she’s dealt with me through both.  Milestones like this allow you to reflect on the things you’re truly grateful for…she’s #1 on the list.

    The last 14 months have been a hustle but today is a day to sit back and smile as the first batch of companies through this program will take the stage this evening at the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts.  I couldn’t be more proud of them.

    They will make a HUGE impact on the world but they’ve already made a bigger impact on me personally.  I grew up around entrepreneurs and I started my life as an entrepreneur…I’ve finally discovered in the last year what was missing from my career and I’m grateful to everyone who’s been a part of that.  For those of you sitting out there who also feel like something is missing…get out there and make something happen.  You won’t regret it.

    P.S.  If you haven’t signed up for tickets to Demo Day yet….make it quick!  We’re very close to selling out and I want to see a packed house tonight!!:  RSVP HERE

  • RSVP NOW FOR THE SPRINT MHEALTH ACCELERATOR DEMO DAY!

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Kansas City, Mobile Tech, Sprint Accelerator

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    70 days ago, we welcomed 10 companies to Kansas City.  As a group, there were 43 of them and they came from all over the World (Chicago, Salt Lake City, Boston, Baltimore, New York, Atlanta, LA, San Francisco and Seattle.  Italy, Australia, Bulgaria, Belarus, Spain and Argentina).

    I’ve been surrounded by remarkable people…a physician who put her medical residency at a Boston Hospital on hold, a former attorney who left his job on Wall Street, a founder who turned down a Fulbright Scholarship to med school, a mobile developer who starred on “The Amazing Race”…twice, former Google, Intel, Microsoft engineers, and more accomplishments than I have time to list here.

    Each company formed around a problem they had personally encountered related to healthcare.  Relatives struggling with diabetes, a grandparent who had suffered a traumatic fall, a parent sifting through mounds of paperwork through treatment of a chronic illness and a desire to better understand how a beloved pet was feeling just to name a few.

    They came in various stages, some with just 3D drawings or prototypes, others with customers and growing monthly revenues. During their time in KC, they all had a mission to accelerate the growth of their startup companies, cramming about a year’s worth of work into 3 months with access to experts in health, tech, business and each-other in the collaborative Sprint Accelerator facility.

    According to the “you’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” rule, my average has shot through the roof.  I feel like a pretty lucky guy.

    ———————–

    I’m looking forward to sharing these companies with the world…  On June 12th, the 10 CEO’s will stand on stage to talk about their business and the progress they’ve made over the 90 day program.  This is your opportunity to get a sneak peek into what progress looks like in a changing healthcare industry.  The event is free and open to the public…all you need to do is RSVP now.

    In addition to you, we’re looking for interested investors, media, business leaders, government officials, healthcare workers, university students/faculty, entrepreneurs and community members here in KC who want to learn more about the 10 companies.  With 1,700 seats available in the Kauffman Performing Arts Center, we will nearly triple the audience size of an average Techstars Demo Day, truly showing off our supportive Kansas City community.

    Sold?  Go RSVP for the show!!

    After that, share the link with your friends, post it to your social sites and bring the rest of KC out for an evening that will be one to remember.

  • DEFINING PURPOSE WITH THE AUDIENCE EFFECT – THANK YOU READERS!

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Leadership, Life Lessons

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    Today I was given the opportunity to talk with a few of Sprint’s best and brightest, newly graduated MBA’s from the most prestigious programs across the country (that isn’t them above…I just wanted a picture of an audience, bear with me).  I was asked by our HR department to come in to discuss some of my recent successes and how I’ve overcome certain failure along the way.  It was a great conversation and we covered a lot of ground.

    The presentation can be found here, but the real short version….I’ve always looked at my role with Sprint as more than a “job.”  I’m a person who bleeds Sprint Yellow (except for Saturdays when it’s Husker Red); most likely dating back to my beginnings as a retail rep for our company.  Completing the responsibilities of my “day job” has always been a focus but starting things like Thank You Thursday, #HackFriday and Sprint Accelerator are passion projects that I have developed for the good of my co-workers, my company and ultimately our customers.

    I built my premise around three points:

    1. Define purpose in your career – figure out why you’re here…what will keep you energized and engaged beyond the current work in your hand?
    2. Bet your paycheck – you can often hear me saying this in the hallways at work.  This is a figure of speech around conviction, know what you want to do and commit to it, own the results of a massive failure or success
    3. Move fast and break stuff – no one is going to hand you initiative, you need to TAKE it.  Ideas are easy but execution is the real work.

    So if you know why you were put on this earth as a means for evaluating opportunities, you’re convicted enough to put your livelihood on the line and you’re willing to put in the work to make it happen there’s no avoiding a promotion.

    Simple enough…right?

    ——————————————–

    After the event, I got a really amazing email…something I’ve struggled with for a long time.  Essentially it was along the following lines (to protect the identity of this person, I’ll shorthand our conversation):

    Erik – great talk today, really connected with your presentation.  I would like to say that I understand my life’s purpose, but that would be a lie.  How did you go about defining that for yourself?

    Damn…busted…at first, I didn’t have a good answer for that.  There are plenty of experts out there who have told you that purpose is important, but who the heck will help you figure out WHY you exist??

    To be honest with you, the statement in my presentation (“My Purpose:  Solve old problems in new ways, inspire others to do the same”) is something that has gone through numerous revisions and probably still isn’t finished.  It’s become a great filter to view life’s choices through, but it hasn’t been by my side for very long in that short and simple format.  My purpose statement is something that’s evolved over time through my life experiences.

    That led me to think more about the evolution.  How has it changed over my life, during my career at Sprint, over the last 2 years….?

    ——————————————–

    Last week, on my way back from California, I read a phenomenal article in Wired Magazine:  “Thinking Out Loud” by Clive Thompson.  In the article, Thompson discusses how social media tools are actually improving the process of critical thought and shaping those who participate through the audience effect:

    “Having an audience can clarify thinking.  It’s easy to win an argument inside your head.  But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.  Social scientists have identified something called the audience effect – the shift in our performance when we know people are watching.  It isn’t always positive.  In live, face-to-face situations, like sports or concerts, the audience effect can make athletes or musicians perform better – but it can sometimes psych them out and make them choke, too.  Yet studies have found that the effort of communicating to someone else forces you to pay more attention and learn more.”

    So, my eventual answer to this truly difficult question was that YOU ALL have helped me define my purpose.  The simple act of putting my thoughts in a public setting where others (theoretically) can read and critique has made me pay more attention to my experiences and thoughts.  Cataloguing simple events like a trip to Portland or identifying with some crazy guy at the Kentucky Derby has helped me arrive at a clear and simple purpose for my life and in turn, my career.

    So what are you doing?  Why are you still on this site?  Go to wordpress.com and start a FREE blog, start writing, post it for everyone to see and start learning from yourself.  Don’t get hung up on the audience…Thompson says that “going from an audience of zero to an audience of 10 is so big that it’s actually huger than going from 10 people to a million.”

    ——————————————–

    Still not convinced, here’s one more excerpt from the Wired article…

    Mom – look back to one of my very first articles published on this blog.  I know you’re a regular reader and I thank you for that!!  Love you!

    You can see this audience effect even in small children. In one of my favorite experiments, a group of Vanderbilt University researchers in 2008 published a study in which several dozen 4- and 5-year-olds were shown patterns of colored bugs and asked to predict which would be next in the sequence. In one group, the children simply repeated the puzzle answers into a tape recorder. In a second group, they were asked to record an explanation of how they were solving each puzzle. And in the third group, the kids had an audience: They had to explain their reasoning to their mothers, who sat near them, listening but not offering any help. Then each group was given patterns that were more complicated and harder to predict.

    The results? The children who didn’t explain their thinking performed worst. The ones who recorded their explanations did better—the mere act of articulating their thinking process aloud seemed to help them identify the patterns more clearly. But the ones who were talking to a meaningful audience—Mom—did best of all. When presented with the more complicated puzzles, on average they solved more than the kids who’d explained to themselves and about twice as many as the ones who’d simply repeated their answers.

  • 3 DAYS AT SXSW V2V, MY TAKE-A-WAYS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Kansas City, Leadership, Life Lessons

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    I spent the first ½ of my week in Las Vegas attending a conference on behalf of Sprint.  South by South West is a well-established cultural conference that takes place in Austin, TX each year, but they’re extending the SXSW brand into other parts of the country.  V2V (Venture 2 Vegas) is the first of its kind with Las Vegas playing host to almost 1K entrepreneurs and innovators.

    There were a few stumbles and I question why it wasn’t held this October in a venue located near the revived “Downtown Project” (adjacent to the upcoming “Life is Beautiful Festival,” a combination that would have easily delivered on the brand promise of SXSW), but overall I’m walking away more enlightened and energized about what’s to come in my career.

    Conferences can often be a mixed bag and I treat them much like I did business school…you’re only going to get as much out of them as you’re willing to put in.  For me, this conference was special…I got to hear from one of my business idols (two if you count McGinnis), listen to a forefather of the internet, develop deeper relationships with KC community leaders, collide with like-minded innovators and speak on a panel for my very first time.

    There’s so much to share and many of my insights will continue to develop here on this blog over time…  I’ll wander through some of the high points of my trip so you may have to bear with me.  Hit me up in the comments if you want to hear more specifics!!

    Tony Hsieh

    It’s not fair for me to narrow this to one take-a-way but I’ll try…  Tony is someone I’ve been following for a long time because of his very progressive views on the importance of company culture.  If I had to pick one quote, it’s the following:

    “Brand is just a lagging indicator of company culture”

    He talked about selling his first venture to Microsoft for $¼ Billion.  He didn’t sell out because of the money but because, in his words, he just didn’t like working there any more.  His focus with Zappos is on the employee experience, looking to create a community where his employees collide with the other innovators in Downtown Las Vegas.  Tony has successfully built a company culture that reflects each individual Zappos employee, focusing solely on customer service that eventually results in the sale of more clothing.  Zappos is not a shoe company, it’s a company that will always deliver happiness to their customers, regardless of the product they’re selling…maybe even an airline some day soon?

    Bonus Points – I also got to shake Tony’s hand after a random encounter at a pool party in downtown Vegas…pretty awesome moment for me.

    Steve Case

    For those who don’t know, Steve Case is the founder of America Online (AOL) and literally responsible for getting America “online.”  I don’t know what comes to mind when you think of AOL (probably CD-ROMS being delivered to your door, a screeching modem connection, chat-rooms and that friendly voice exclaiming “YOU’VE GOT MAIL!”), but we owe a lot to this man.

    When AOL was founded, 3% of the US was connected to the internet and on average those people were online 1hr per week.  AOL created the tools and applications that made the internet real, effectively revolutionizing how we now communicate and conduct daily life.  Steve talked a lot about his views on the continuing internet revolution and the fact that it’s not limited to a single city:

    “60 years ago, Detroit was the center of American innovation, not Silicon Valley.  What happened?  They lost their entrepreneurial mojo.”

    This quote is something that resonates with me and helped provide some context to what I wrestle with in my company.  Almost 120 years ago a farmer in Abilene, KS decided to stand up to the Bell monopoly, giving the customers he served a choice in their communication provider.  Decades later, we laid the first all fiber-optic network across America and soon after launched the very first national wireless network.

    The entrepreneurial mindset is not something reserved for 2 people in a garage or a start-up just trying to make it in “Silicon Wherever.”  Entrepreneurial thinking is a mindset that challengers everywhere must adopt to survive…  Whatever industry you’re in, take a look around.  Does your company have its entrepreneurial mojo?

    KC Community

    Launch KC and Think Big Partners held a cocktail party Tuesday night to get some of the KC people together as well as some other interested conference goers.  The party was in a penthouse at “The Hotel” (That’s with a capital T for those out there trying to find the right place…..*cough*……Brian).  It was off of the beaten path, requiring a $10 cab ride to get there, but as I exited the elevator on the 62nd floor and rounded the corner, the sound of 50 people having simultaneous conversation filled the hallway.  My take-a-way:

    The Midwest’s neighborly attitude and ability to work together will help us win!

    The city’s Big 5 initiative is ambitious, hoping to make KC one of the most entrepreneurial communities in America.  KC is relying on one of our strongest assets…the Midwest cultural values of a hard work ethic and a neighborly attitude to make waves in the tech/entrepreneurial scene.  KC has long been plagued with an invisible line that for some reason fosters a centuries old “border war.” It can be fun during football season, but the entrepreneurial community is showcasing our ability to compete together as one.

    Among the party attendees was a strong contingent of KC start-ups, government agencies, foundations, corporations and venture funds.  We all get-a-long in a way that is unique from the start-up communities I’ve visited.  There’s still a long way to go but the conversations happening in this room were evidence of how far we’ve come by working together.

    KC is thriving and will continue to do so because of our desire to collaborate.  We may never get to the population density of other larger markets, but we have a leg up when it comes to the “collision density” that Tony is striving for in Downtown Las Vegas.

    A Corporate Role in the Entrepreneurial Eco-System

    Kevin McGinnis and Jeff Slobotski sat down on Wednesday to have a fireside chat.  In a story I’ve heard many times, Kevin talked through the last couple years of Sprint getting more involved with the entrepreneurial movement in KC.  The symbiotic relationship between corporations and start-ups has been well documented and a lot of times, it can be misconstrued that the benefits are lop-sided.  Kevin brought in a few examples of the benefits Sprint has seen since engaging more in the community, but the following really hit home for me:

    “Employee satisfaction picks up when our employees engage in the entrepreneurial ecosystem”

    I’ve taken a lot of inspiration back to my day job through my involvement in the entrepreneurial community.  Participating in local hack-a-thons, start-up weekend, mentoring and just hanging out with some of these innovators in KC has given me a fresh perspective on my career.  As a corporation, we have access to a lot of valuable assets ranging from intellectual property, money, customers and more…but our most valuable resource is locked within the minds of the domain experts we’ve trained over the last few decades.  Getting those people out of their desk every now and again to “collide” with the larger eco-system is critical to our success.  Giving employees the freedom to sit down as a mentor and walk away with a better understanding for the entrepreneurial mindset will change culture at Sprint in a way that can’t be trained or handed down.

    If you’re a corporate employee in Kansas City and you feel like you’re doing your job the same way it’s been done for years, then stop it.  Stand up, get involved, change something.  The community is ready for you, but much like a business conference, you’re only going to get out what you put into it.

    Let me know if you need help getting started.

  • TECH COMMUNITIES ACROSS AMERICA: THE TECH TREK THESIS (PART 2 OF 3)

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Tech Trek

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    For those following along, my week-long road trip from California to KC afforded me and 8 friends a unique viewpoint of America.  We picked up Google Glass in downtown San Francisco, and took a leisurely 2,500 mile trip back home through the bay area, LA, Las Vegas, Boulder and back to KC.

    I spent time in Part One of this story talking about what it was like to have access to a piece of technology on the “Bleeding Edge.”  Today I’ll spend a little time talking about some of the communities we passed through, visiting a few of America’s most vibrant entrepreneurial metropolitan areas.

    ————————————————————-

    Part Two:  Tech Communities Across America

    As we travelled across the western half of the US, we had the opportunity to connect with each local entrepreneurial community; America’s enterprising spirit was alive and well with each stop.  LA has adopted the “Silicon Beach” name where creative incubation labs like Science have popped up, Tony Hsieh is funding a massive project blending his Zappos corporation with entrepreneurial minds in downtown Las Vegas and a well nurtured entrepreneurial community in Boulder continues to flourish.

    In each of these communities you ran into the same kind of people.  Entrepreneurial minds who want to solve meaningful problems, displaying a youthful ambition regardless of age.  Conservatism isn’t a trait that you commonly see as every single one of these people are diving head first into their work with the expectation that they’ll figure it out and make it big, or fail trying before moving on to the next thing.

    San Francisco:

    Downtown San Francisco was the same place I always remember it being.  The birthplace of the hippie and the hipster still continues to define cool with architecture, art, food and music un-matched by any of the cities we visited.  Every corner you turned was bustling with activity, each neighborhood bringing a different vibe than the last.  Walking the streets you’ll run into familiar brands like Zynga, Pinterest, IDEO and many more.  Tech royalty like David Williams roam the streets, waiting for an appointment to lead the hottest new start-up to success.

    All of that culture comes at a price with median home prices topping $1M, the average startup entrepreneur just trying to get by is generally sharing a small rental with a few other people.  San Francisco can also be down right cold…isn’t this supposed to be California?

    Silicon Valley:

    The suburbs of Palo Alto, Mountain View, San Jose, Cupertino and others make up what is the undisputed tech hub of the world.  Internet and Tech giants like Apple, Google, Facebook, Intel, and Ebay call this home with large office parks and wide open space for development making it appealing for companies in rapid growth stages.  Small startups seek refuge in the shadows of these giants hoping to find an office to share, colliding with other talented people, seeking funding from one of the big venture capital firms and hoping for a large exit.

    Big box stores, chain restaurants and office parks all right next to large highways make it feel like an American suburb.  If you didn’t see LinkedIn, McAffee or PayPal logos on buildings when you drove around you wouldn’t be able to tell it apart from any other over populated metro area.  Many of the younger entrepreneurs we spoke to lamented this fact stating that they moved to California for the culture…Silicon Valley wasn’t the promised land they hoped for and were ready to move after getting what they needed from the mentors in the area.

    Los Angeles:

    Dude….it’s southern California.  Beach community after beach community, the warm sun, soft sands and crashing waves never get old. A walk down the board walk will make you realize that you’re out of shape and not nearly as interesting as you thought you were.  While not front and center, there’s entrepreneurial activity happening here.  We reached out on Twitter to a few people, but because it was Sunday I think most of the entrepreneurs we wanted to connect with were surfing.

    If you think metro centers like KC are spread out, try multiplying that by 9.  Getting around in LA is a real pain in the ass, making it that much easier to  plant yourself on the beach, wasting warm and sunny day after warm and sunny day.  I’m sure that gets old eventually if you need to make things happen…right?

    Las Vegas:

    Of all the cities we were visiting, Las Vegas was the one I was most excited about due to the entrepreneurial explosion downtown.  The Vegas tech scene has a lot to over come with a deeply rooted identity in legal gambling (among other things).  I would have loved to been in the room when Tony Hsieh first told the city he was going to spend $350M of his own money and none of it was going to gaming.  I’m guessing the old guard city hall had no idea what to do with this insane proposal.  He’s starting to make a difference, carving out a large chunk of the downtown area, dedicating it to building new businesses through the collisions of amazing people.  Small companies are starting to build themselves in co-working spaces and over the next year they’ll be surrounded by dog parks, adult playgrounds, a TED stage and even the Zappo’s headquarters.

    While it definitely wasn’t humid, 117 degrees still feels really freakin’ hot (it’s a dry heat….).  There were bike lanes all over the city streets but I would probably opt for one of 50 Tesla S (the sporty EV) Tony purchased for entrepreneurs to zip around town in.  New families have some big hurdles to overcome with the Vegas school district coming in as one of the lowest rated in the country and housing difficult to find in the downtown area.

    Boulder:

    Boulder is about as beautiful as an outdoor city can get.  I had lunch on a patio overlooking a gigantic mountain with a beer selection that impressed this beer snob.  Pearl Street is a pedestrian friendly district with a lot of startup companies nearby creating a density typically not seen in towns of this size.  Brad Feld literally wrote the book on what a good Startup Community looks like and you can see what he loves about this place.

    I find it hard to complain about anything going on here…Boulder clearly has their stuff together but maybe it’s the Cornhusker in me who can’t come to grips with openly endorsing the entire city.

    ————————————————————-

    Talking to people like Dylan Bathurst and his iPhone app Rumgr or Claus Moberg and his 3D printed transaction authenticator “SnowShoe” showed all of us that tech entrepreneurship isn’t unique to the Bay Area.

    The lesson learned in seeing all of these communities in a short amount of time is the recognition that none of them are Silicon Valley…and they shouldn’t be.  Silicon Valley in all of its glory is a place that has built an identity over decades and continues to define itself to this day.  LA, Las Vegas, Boulder and Kansas City are very different markets with very different personalities and very different assets.  Kansas City doesn’t have Tony Hsieh or mountains or the Googleplex sitting in its back yard.  We also don’t have blistering desert heat, smog, unaffordable housing or crushing traffic jams.

    What we do have is a bustling eco-system of doers, a top notch infrastructure including the fastest internet in the country, supporters like the local universities, The Kauffman Foundation, corporations like Sprint and Hallmark.  I might be biased, but I didn’t see that kind of collaboration in any other market we visited.  Every entrepreneurial expat we spoke to still referred to the midwest as “home” and what we’re building in KC is becoming a destination that they’re looking forward to coming back to soon.

    If this trip did one thing for me, it solidified my conviction in this city…making me as proud as ever to call KC home (a gigantic leap for this Nebraskan).

  • BLEEDING EDGE: THE TECH TRECK THESIS – PART 1 OF 3

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Mobile Tech, Tech Trek

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    It was 2am, my eyes were focused on the road directly in front of me and my hands were firmly planted at 10 and 2.  I was definitely getting tired as the 9 hours of traveling (and the 2,500 miles prior to that) started to wear on me.  As we crested a small hill on I-70, KC finally came into view.  The Tech Trek was quickly coming to a close and we were all anxious to get a good night of sleep in our own beds.

    I captured some of the events that had happened along the way but up to this point hadn’t really reflected on what the trip meant to me.  Seeing “home” in the distance brought a sudden rush of energy into my system and the events of the last 7 days ran through my head.  We packed every single day full with meetings, sightseeing and general shenanigans…my body could feel that.  It’s probably why it’s taken another full week for me to process what this road trip really meant to me.

    As I’ve encountered co-workers and friends, a narrative has started to shape up.  There’s so much to share but I think I can boil it down into 3 key observations of what I witnessed on this unconventional “business trip.”

    Part One:  Bleeding Edge Technology

    I wasn’t originally invited up to the top floor to receive Google Glass with Chris, but apparently my status as a “Sprint Employee” intrigued one of the Google staff and I was told to come up.  There were large guys standing at the entrance with Google polo shirts on, one of the “o’s” was shaped like a deputy sheriff’s star…all the same they were extremely friendly and showed me into the pop-up store.  It was modern, sparsely furnished with wood and steel tables, each of those holding a Chromebook Pixel and a fitting mirror to see how you looked with Google’s wearable computer on your face.  Through the picture windows along the side of the room you could see the Bay Bridge spanning out across the water and a couple demo stations stood nearby giving me the opportunity to try on a pair of Glass for the first time.

    I had read a lot about Google Glass and to be perfectly honest, wasn’t completely impressed with the functionality.  That being said, a podium with a bunch of non-working samples of Glass awakened the squealing Google Geek within me and I was already thinking through how I could explain a $1,500 purchase like this to my wife.  Fortunately for her, Glass is only available to a limited number of people and I didn’t make that exclusive list.  I tried them on for the first time and felt instant tech euphoria.  One of the employees could sense this emotion and walked over to ask if I wanted him to take a headshot for me…I did and I instantly posted it to Facebook.

    While my geek-out was going on, Chris was sitting at one of the modern tables working with a Google Glass fit specialist.  She was walking him through the hardware and beginning to introduce some of the the software functionality.  I turned around to watch him initially struggle with they very specific syntax of the voice commands.  Through trial and error, a number of questions and a few technical difficulties Glass was up and running and we had worn out our welcome with the Google team.  We were the last ones in the location and the Googlers were clearly ready to go home.

    We hit the streets, reunited with the larger crew and went in search of pizza (every member of the Tech Trek taking their turn trying on Glass and taking a picture of themselves wearing it so they too could post to Facebook).  Within 20 minutes, we had our very first Glass Gawker.  After parking our car outside of the pizza joint, someone stopped Chris on the street to ask if he was wearing Google Glass.  Chris did a quick demonstration for the guy and we headed on our way.  This became extremely common in public places…even in downtown San Francisco where there is arguably a higher saturation of Glass than any other part of the country.

    We interacted with a number of people over the course of the trip to get their reaction.  There was really no standard…everyone fell into different parts of a quadrant:

    glass plot

    As we traveled on, the composition of people’s thoughts didn’t change as much as the frequency of gawking.  The further we travelled from the Bay Area the more we would catch people stopping and staring.  At one point I enjoyed following our camera man Spencer, as he captured reaction shots.  People would walk by Chris and, immediately after passing him, look at each other with puzzled faces or do a double take.  It was a lot of fun to watch.

    Finding communities like Venice Beach where we could put Glass onto people doing amazing things like dunking a basketball or boxing produced great results.  We all agreed that video and photo capture is probably the current “killer app” but that means Glass in its current form is little more than a pricey Go Pro camera that sits on your face.

    It’s clear that Glass has a long way to go and the promise of more invasive applications like “Winky” or deeper exploration into Augmented Reality may justify the concern of the people who sit on the “freaked out” end of the spectrum.  The product is definitely a 1.0 or Beta version and has a long ways to go before its utility is proven in the general market.

    In part two, I’ll talk contrast the tech communities from California back to KC, stay tuned!

  • TECH TREK DAY 5 – A BUSINESS OASIS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Tech Trek

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    One of the benefits to riding across the country with a group of uber-connected entrepreneurs is that they’re well….connected.  In the case of Vegas, we had a hookup at one of the hottest new night clubs in town, Hakkasan.  After shaking hands with the club promoter, letting the bouncers and hostesses try on Google Glass, we were on an elevator, headed to the 4th floor of the club.

    Long story short, my wake-up call came WAY earlier than I expected.  All the same I jumped out of bed with enthusiasm because we were headed to Downtown Las Vegas.  Downtown was once the center of gaming in Las Vegas after its legalization in the 1930’s.  As the industry boomed, Las Vegas grew from a sleepy city of 5,000 to the nearly 40 million visitors seen annually today.  Soon the bright lights of the downtown casinos were dimmed by the mega resorts on Las Vegas Boulevard that we all associate with the city today.  As tourism shifted to the miles of resorts south of town, the downtown district suffered.

    Tony Hsieh is changing all of that.  The CEO of Zappos moved to Las Vegas in 2004 to scale his start-up and has since been a champion for the Vegas community.  He’s ponied up $350M of his own money to re-develop the downtown area, relocating the Zappos HQ to the old city hall and buying up every piece of property he can to form what looks like a llama shaped plot of city blocks (seriously…he’s obsessed with the animal).

    His dedication to the growth of Zappos, the entrepreneurial community and the education system in Las Vegas is nothing short of amazing.  Seeing his vision taking shape from the top story of the Ogden building inside the penthouse he calls home blew my mind.

    What really got to me was the blending of his Zappos Corporation and the entrepreneurial community.  In designing the new HQ, Tony and team studied the corporate campuses of Google, Facebook, Yahoo! and more.  The common thread in all of these places was the open format that encouraged collaboration and ideation with other employees…Tony wants to take it a step further.  Rather than simply collaborating with other Zappos employees, Tony is building a downtown that encourages his three C’s (Community, Collaboration and Co-Learning) among his Zappos employees, start-up entrepreneurs and any other companies who locate to the area.

    Open co-working spaces, community arts centers, coffee shops, dog parks, stages where you’ll be able to catch a TED talk on your way to work, new early childhood learning centers, bars and restaurants make up the re-imagined area.  In the blistering heat of the desert, this section of downtown is beginning to take shape as a business oasis.

    As I’ve discussed previously on this blog, there’s a symbiotic relationship that must occur between corporations and the budding entrepreneurs of the world.  What Tony is building isn’t simply an innovative way to build a corporate HQ, it’s the way corporations will need to operate if they are to thrive. We’re now in a world where you must disrupt of be disrupted…immersing your employees with potential disruptors can do nothing but help the chances of succeeding together.

  • TECH TREK DAY 4 – PLAYING WITH GLASS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance, Tech Trek

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    After the long ride down the coastline, we ended the evening in one of LA’s oldest Mexican restaurants (El Cholo).  The cold margaritas and spicy fish tacos were a welcome treat after a long car ride.  It was nearing midnight so after one more beer at a bar around the corner we all headed for the hotel for a little rest.

    We spent the next day on the beach, finally feeling that California sun….many of us now with the red skin to prove it.  Of all the beaches in the LA area we decided to spend our time on Venice beach, hoping to catch some of the action on the board walk.  It didn’t disappoint.

    Among the street vendors, beach bums and tourists there were pockets of really interesting people doing things outside.  We took the opportunity to put Google Glass on the faces of people who were out and about get their point of view.

    So far, most of us agree that the “killer app” of Google Glass is definitely the photo and video capability, capturing a cool human eye perspective that only takes seconds to enable (and we’ve found the image quality to be amazing).  We interrupted a few people to try on Google Glass while they were going about their afternoon activities.  A street ball “dunker,” a boxing trainer who was working out with a client and a street performer on the boardwalk were all willing volunteers.  We had fun watching the point of view Google Glass afforded us (I don’t know about you, but my days of doing a 360 degree spinning dunk are long gone).

    More than the cool videos that we were able to capture, it was fascinating to see the general public react to seeing Google Glass in the open.  In San Francisco we got a few looks but for the most part, the novelty has worn off in a city where Googlers have been walking around with them on in public for months.  LA was far enough away from the bay area giving most of the residents and tourists their first look at it in the wild.

    It started out with in-conspicuous looks but soon enough people were gathering in a crowd around Chris to catch a glimpse and maybe even try them on.  You can instantly see the power in Google’s bleeding edge piece of hardware to capture people’s imagination.  Even more than that, you get a good understanding for Google’s strategy of “pre-releasing” this device before it’s ready for prime time.  Google may not know how Glass will be put to work, but what we’ve discovered is that everyone has an idea of how they would like to use it….and that’s exactly what Google’s hoping for.

    We wrapped up things in LA (stopping at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles for a quick bite to eat) and headed into the desert for Las Vegas.  While Google Glass continues to capture the imagination of the general public we found at least one person who’s not interested in imagining the future…the head of security at the Luxor Hotel and Casino.  Chris was told to “take those off” within seconds of entering the hotel lobby.

  • TECH TREK DAY 3 – AMERICAN INGENUITY

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Life Lessons, Tech Trek

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    On day 3 we departed from the bay area and headed south toward LA.  Instead of taking the direct route down Highway 5 we opted for the curvy and scenic Highway 1.  After a brief stop in Monterey to see the ocean for the first time, we settled into a great sushi restaurant just a little down the road in Carmel.  The sun was out and shining down on us from our spot on the patio…a huge change from the chill of the bay area.

    We continued on down Highway 1.  Around every curve a new view of the ocean appeared against the steep rocky cliffs that were almost dizzying as you looked over the edge.  As we neared Big Sur, there were people pulled into scenic turn-outs right next to a gigantic concrete bridge.  We decided to pull over and take a look, our progress south was somewhat slow but we were trying to take it all in.

    Commissioned in 1931, the Bixby Bridge was meant to connect the residents of Northern and Southern California.  With an initial budget of $203K the project was completed in about 14 months and came in under budget.  At around $3M in today’s dollars the project seems like a relative bargain when you consider the $8M that was just recently spent on lighting up the Bay Bridge in San Francisco.

    I hiked off a bit behind the bridge, to get a better view.  The bridge was stunning from the view where we parked the car but as you moved further to the Northeast you got a perspective that made the concrete arches look dynamic.  Standing right on the edge of the cliff, my head started to spin just a bit and I had to take a step back due to the height.  Looking at the bridge from a distance made me question whether or not what I was seeing was even real…I started to think about the workers who constructed it over 80 years ago.

    This bridge stood in front of me as a symbol of American ingenuity…not unlike what I had seen over the last couple of days.  Though today’s entrepreneurs aren’t building bridges, dams or interstate systems, Americans haven’t lost their desire to tackle interesting problems.  Literally building a bridge over gaps rather than turning around and giving up is something I see in San Francisco and I know I see it in KC.  We’ve entered a new era, one that requires us to appreciate the infrastructure our ancestors built and do them proud by advancing the American economy into the next era.

  • TECH TREK – DAY 1…

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Mobile Tech, Other Cool Stuff..., Tech Trek

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    My eyes shot open and I looked above my head to see the upside-down characters on the alarm clock…somehow my brain made out the fact that it was 3:30 AM, but it didn’t matter I couldn’t sleep any more.  I reached up and turned off the clock so it wouldn’t blare and wake up my wife when it was scheduled to go off at 3:45.  I rolled out of bed to see my wheeled carry-on bag and backpack bursting at the seams, sitting along the wall.  Both bags were stuffed with enough t-shirts, clean underwear and technology to last me 7 days on the road.

    My beautiful wife eventually woke up and graciously drove me to KCI where I barely made my flight out.  Airport security at 6:12 AM runs just as fast as you do at that time….  Day 1 of the Tech Trek had begun:  8 guys, 7 days, 5 stops, countless experiences with the bleeding edge Google Glass hardware in tow, all documented on video.

    After some flight confusion and missed connections by some others we eventually assembled as a team in Silicon Valley.  A Mod Squad of technologists, creative designers, innovators and entrepreneurial minds assembled on the patio of a German style beer garden in down town Mountain View:

    Chris Shaw – Entrepreneur In Residence at Think Big Partners and founder of the Tech Trek (LinkedIn Twitter)

    Hampton Stevens – Freelance journalist for the Atlantic, ESPN the Magazine, Playboy and many more (LinkedIn Twitter)

    Blake Miller – Partner at Think Big Partners and Managing Director of their Accelerator (LinkedIn Twitter)

    Andy Olson – Innovation Leader at Hallmark Cards (LinkedIn Twitter)

    Tom Brantman – Innovation Leader, Immagineer at Hallmark Cards (LinkedIn Twitter)

    Jason Grill – Media Relations, Public Affairs, PR, Attorney, Entrepreneur, TV Analyst, National Writer, Radio Host, Fmr MO Rep (LinkedIn Twitter)

    Spencer Walsh – Documentary Filmmaker, Owner of Piscator Media (LinkedIn Twitter)

    and me….

    We kicked off the day talking with Wade Foster, a graduate from MU who founded Zapier and just recently moved out to Silicon Valley. Over brats and a .5L of beer we talked about his experience with Y Combinator, the benefits of the Valley and his desire to eventually come back “home” to Missouri.

    After killing some time at  the Googleplex in Mountain View, we headed back to our hotel to prepare for the main event….picking up Glass in downtown San Francisco.  We arrived at a nondescript corporate office building close to pier 28 and took the elevator to the 5th floor.  Greeted by Google security, only a couple of us were actually allowed to go into the Glass Receiving area…a stripped down concrete floor with modern/minimal furniture accented by Glass branding.  Chris was seated at a table with a Glass specialist who helped him with the fit and walked him through a very detailed orientation.  It’s clear the technology is new and Google is trying to reduce the learning curve as much as possible.

    We played around, geeked out, asked a bunch of questions and then we were off…on our own in downtown San Francisco.  We navigated to a local pizza joint using Glass and devoured our food.  Everyone took their turn passing Glass around the table and envious onlookers peered through the window to see what we were doing.  We were having a great time but many of us were coming upon our 24th hour awake and we were ready for bed.

    Today is a new day, we’ll be exploring the bay area a bit more talking with a few early stage companies and then doing some of the touristy things.  I would love to take you all along with me on this experience over the next 7 days and you’ll be able to do that because of the technology we have in tow.  Stay tuned here, keep an eye on the TechTrek Blog and Twitter as well as my social media sites….we’re capturing a lot of content with the intent to share!!

    Tech Trek Blog:  http://techtrek.co/

    Tech Trek Twitter:  https://twitter.com/TheTechTrek