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  • tomhigley 12:28 pm on February 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: acquisition, billion, consumer, , free, , whatsapp   

    The Persistent Power of Free 

    FreeFacebook will acquire WhatsApp for $16 billion. Wait. WhatsApp? What’s up with that?

    Despite everything you may have heard from your local angel investors and venture capital firms about how important it is to generate revenue and become profitable, it remains true that the most significant startup successes (for both startups and startup investors) are all about “free” and all about the race to an addictive experience with a large and growing number of consumers.

    Free wins.

    You say “nothing’s free.” Well, sure. You’re right. But if something looks free, feels free and doesn’t generate a number in your monthly credit card statement, I’m going to call it “free.”

    Chris Anderson – then Editor in Chief of Wired Magazine – wrote about this in Free: How Today’s Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing. He was right then. And he’s still right today.

    This doesn’t mean that “free” will work for every startup. But it does mean that you shouldn’t assume that your best path to success in the consumer arena is a product or service the consumer has to pay for.

    • Stan Price 2:15 pm on March 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Tom,

      I share this philosophy and am developing a music distribution platform around the notion of “free”. I call it the “Free-to-Sell” platform. Right now, every major music distribution service takes anywhere from 15-30% (and beyond) of all music sales. Depending on the amount of sales you have, this can be a large amount cash that you lose. My platform takes 0%, and I have developed a method to make it quite profitable.

      I would love to chat with you about it, and take in any advice or direction you can offer. I would also like to mention that I am seeking angel investors to help get the ball rolling so we can have a smooth launch and have the capital needed to maintain and grow.

      Thanks for your time Tom.


  • tomhigley 10:00 am on January 4, 2014 Permalink
    Tags: , 101010, , , , , wicked problems   

    Entrepreneurs: Designing and Building the Future 

    Entrepreneurs recognize and seize opportunities. They do this, first, by noticing problems and solving them. They then deliver their solution to a customer. The customer pays them. If the customer pays the entrepreneur (or the entrepreneur’s business) more than the entrepreneur’s cost of developing and delivering the solution, the entrepreneur has a viable business.

    The Future is Yours to Build

    The Future is Yours to Build

    This is Entrepreneurship 101.

    It is, fundamentally, what every successful entrepreneur does. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. And Mark Zuckerberg.

    Entrepreneurs who have mastered Entrepreneurship 101 move up the food chain. These more advanced and ambitious entrepreneurs look for businesses and business models that are repeatable and scalable. Repeatable is the easy part. Even the butcher has a repeatable business model.

    Scalable is harder, almost magical. A scalable business model is one in which increased future revenues cost less to deliver than current revenues.

    Repeatable and scalable businesses capture the imagination, passion and energy of the world’s best entrepreneurs and the capital of the world’s most successful investors.

    Entrepreneurs get into the graduate-level stuff when they determine they will tackle wicked problems. Wicked problems are almost never solved by a single spark of interest or by an individual working alone. Solutions to wicked problems require the fire of imagination, the fuel of capital and the persistent, disciplined work of a committed and exceptional team.

    A little luck helps, too.

    I’m interested in developing the entrepreneur’s graduate-level course in wicked problems. The course is not intended for the entrepreneur satisfied with Entrepreneurship 101. It is focused on opportunities with business models that are repeatable, scalable and more. The “more” is the “wicked problems” part of the program.

    Many entrepreneurs dreams stop at useful but incremental improvements achieved through hacks to systems, technologies or distribution channels. And some entrepreneurs are content with merely hastening the inevitable. (Seeing just a little bit into the future and playing Wayne Gretzky with the puck of opportunity.) That doesn’t interest me.

    Instead, I’m interested in leaders. Those who would dare conceive of a future they must design and build themselves with the help of purpose-built teams. I’d like to find these leaders and help them discover the necessary tools to create the future. A future that is anything but inevitable. In the end, that’s what 10.10.10 is all about.

  • tomhigley 1:05 pm on October 18, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , CEO, , , , solutions, , taxonomy, technology   

    10.10.10 Types of Problems 

    Over the past year I have been working with a wonderful team of people to develop the first 10.10.10 program. What is “10.10.10?” It’s a program with three key components:

    1. 10 problems with significant market opportunity
    2. 10 prospective CEOs from all over the country, each looking for their next big thing
    3. 10 days together in a startup community that serves as a hosting environment for developing market solutions and giving birth to new startup companies

    So, 10.10.10 is ten problems, ten CEOs and ten days, and the first 10.10.10 program will be held in 2014 in Denver, Colorado from February 18-28th.

    But this post is about problems. More specifically, it is about the types of problems that entrepreneurs might choose to address – a kind of taxonomy.

    The impetus for this desire to classify problems derives from my thinking about the sorts of problems that are most suitable for 10.10.10. And for me this inquiry begins with three primary stakeholders – the customer, the entrepreneur and the investor.

    Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. I’m posting this here to invite you to participate in helping us to come up with clearer, better ways of thinking about the kinds of problems that would become the focus for 10.10.10.

    Categories, Classes or Types of Problems

    Efficiency. Current solutions are costly due to inefficiencies. These inefficiencies may take any of the following forms:

    • Lack of info or data
    • Info or data unavailable in a timely manner
    • High cost or scarse resources currently used to provide solution (product or service) vs low cost or widely available resources

    Invention. The solution to the problem does not yet exist.

    • A working solution to the problem has not been articulated or implemented.
    • The technology does not yet exist. At all.
    • The technology has not sufficiently matured (but it clearly will x years in the future). 

    Distribution. Solutions are available, but existing distribution channels are inadequate or ineffective.


    • The problem affects many people or businesses, but (a) only a few would be willing to pay for a solution or (b) people / businesses would pay an amount that is inadequate to cover the cost plus reasonable margin of profit for delivering the product or service.
    • The problem affects only a small number of people or businesses.


    • The problem occurs irregularly or sporadically.
    • Repeat uses of the solution (product or service) are difficult to predict.


    • Solutions exist or could be imagined and developed, but they require many elements to “go right.”
    • Requirements for a fully working solution have not yet been published and tested.
    • The suppliers of the necessary components have not yet been persuaded to make their components compatible. 
    • No one has yet organized and tested the constituent elements of a solution in a way that delivers a complete, working solution to the marketplace.  

    Scope & Scale. Testing a solution is possible only after massive investment with a concomitant unacceptable level of risk.


    That’s what I have come up with so far. What other useful approaches would you suggest? Please keep in mind that we are classifying the types of problems that 10.10.10’s CEOs would be motivated to address by investing the next chapter of their lives in a startup that develops and markets a solution.

    I am eager to see what you come up with!

  • tomhigley 10:43 am on July 18, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: android, apps, ios, iphone, value   

    I Don’t Need Another App 


    William Hook via Flickr

    I know I’m atypical. In oh so many ways. I read vastly more than most people do. I am often late. I often don’t respond as quickly or consistently as I should.

    But I think I share a common perspective with nearly every iPhone or Android user. I don’t need another app. True, I have 294 of them installed on my iPhone and 297 on my iPad, and those numbers may be a bit high when compared with the average user.  Still, I’d be willing to bet that most iPhone and Android users share my feelings about apps: many of them are very cool and even useful, but none of us really needs another app.

    What we do need is value, and if I believe an app can really provide value (and most don’t), I’ll install it. I’ll give it a try. But it better do or be one of these things, immediately: 

    • Fun
    • Entertaining
    • Informative
    • Helpful
    • Save me money
    • Save me time
    • Help me feel loved or capable or connected

    What makes you decide to install and try a new app?

    What was the last thing you decided to try?

    Will you keep using it?

    And here’s the big question: what’s the most valuable app on your iPhone or Android? 

    • arc Silverman 2:14 pm on August 2, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Tom,
      Hope you are doing well. I stumbled upon your recent rant about not needing another iPhone app.
      Well, here’s an interesting one that I wrote. I’ve been working on lots of iOS stuff relating to other companies I work with, but this is the first one on my own.

      It’s an iPhone application to help responsible medical and recreational pot users (or users of any medication) quickly and privately determine their impairment level prior to driving. The test takes about two minutes to complete and it provides an accurate snapshot of memory, balance, time perception and reaction time.

      Individuals can create their own personal baseline when they feel ‘okay’ and then measure themselves against that baseline whenever they desire. It takes about five minutes to establish a personal baseline and the baseline can be reset at any time. People can also test themselves against a ‘standard’ if they do not want to establish a personal baseline. Individual performance data is maintained on the individual’s device and is never uploaded. Privacy is an essential component of this product. The app is currently available for free to anyone who wants it, in support of a broader public safety effort.

      Here’s the link on the store:
      There’s more info on the website at:

      Best regards,

  • tomhigley 1:54 pm on July 17, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Beginning to look for a new CTO or tech lead for Vokl. Friday is the last day of full time work for Vasily Vasinov, Vokl’s CTO. We will miss him terribly.

    Vokl Business Coming to App Store

    Vokl Business Coming to App Store

  • tomhigley 2:01 pm on May 12, 2013 Permalink | Reply  

    Game Horizon’s Q&A with Will Wright on the future of games 

    Will Wright on the future if games Pt. 1.

  • tomhigley 1:58 pm on May 12, 2013 Permalink | Reply  

    Game Horizon’s Will Wright Q&A on the future of games (part two) 

    Will is always incredible.

  • tomhigley 9:02 pm on March 10, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: chris ganson, , dylan richard, engineering, engineers, harper reed, jason kunesh, jb holston, obama, ofaco   

    Obama For America Engineering Dream Team 

    Last week J.B. Holston hosted the Obama for America Engineering Dream Team in Denver, and it was one of the more inspiring experiences I have had in some time. Who ARE these guys? Well, the Atlantic did a piece back in November, “When the Nerds Go Marching In,” that answers the question. Sort of.


    The guys who came to Colorado from Chicago – Harper Reed, Dylan Richard, Jason Kunesh and Chris Ganson – were like troops returning from Afganistan to a hero’s welcome. Which is fitting. After all, these guys are war heroes, albeit in a war of a very different kind. They’re the guys who put in 14 hour days 6-7 days a week in a battle to reelect a President. And they won.

    They were smart, focused and determined. But they weren’t cocky. Far far from it. Given several opportunities to glory in their success (vs. the misfortunes of their counterparts working for Romney), they flat out refused to be critical. “Technology is hard.” That’s what they said. They knew they could have had things happen to the Obama effort that they  didn’t expect and couldn’t control. As Harper says in the Atlantic article:

    “I know we had the best technology team I’ve ever worked with, but we didn’t know if it would work. I was incredibly confident it would work. I was betting a lot on it. We had time. We had resources. We had done what we thought would work, and it still could have broken. Something could have happened.”

    That generosity of spirit was evident throughout the conversations I witnessed – during their lunchtime panel hosted at Newsgator, during the dinner at Cholon Bistro and afterward when we were just hanging out together at The Kitchen.

    And here’s the real thing: they cared about making a difference, about making the world a better place. And because they really really do want to make they world a better place, they were clear that they weren’t willing to sacrifice what is most important – integrity and honor – to ensure a victory that could only have been hollow if it had to be achieved by compromising their values. Call me crazy, but I like that. No, I love that. Maybe I feel that way because I identify with a certain midwestern purity of heart that I thought I saw in them. Or maybe I just like connecting with folks that I think are the real deal, folks who really are making a difference in the world and who choose to use the talent, experience and drive they have to “be the difference.”

    Any way, you can learn a bit more about the team’s visit here:

    And you should check out J.B.’s blog post, “Stuff – an extensive and heartfelt “thank you” to all the people who helped make the visit so compelling – and there were many people involved to be sure. I’m just grateful I got the chance to connect for a few moments. A huge thank you to the dream team, J.B Holston and everyone else who made this happen.

    I’m hoping we can get them back again soon. Maybe in the fall for Denver Startup Week or 10.10.10.

  • tomhigley 12:21 pm on January 14, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: brad feld, built in Denver, , denver startup week, , startup communities,   

    Built in Denver 

    Erik Mitisek, Chairman Built in Denver

    If you haven’t seen it yet, please check Built in Denver, the new website that focuses on the staartup and entrepreneurial activities happing in and around Denver, Colorado. Members, events, companies, blogs, jobs and more come together on the site as a go-to resource for those living in or near Denver and those outside Denver who want to know more about the City of Denver, Denver entrepreneurship, Denver startups and more.

    A great thank you to Erik Mitisek, Built in Denver’s Chairman, for the legwork that went in to pulling this together.

    Why “Built in Denver?” Why not “Built in Colorado?” Or “Built in America?”

    For me the answer to this question goes to two key issues. First, focus. We want Denver to have a resource that allows the entire community to pull together and amplify the voices, opportunities, entrepreneurs, startups and supporting resources that make Denver one of the best places on the planet to live and work. A different, “Built in Colorado,” theme could accomplish only a part of that and “Built in America” rather misses the point – of focus – entirely.

    The second issue is promotion. In Brad Feld’s recent book, Startup Communities, Brad describes his Boulder Thesis. (It’s a great book and a great read, by the way.) Brad didn’t choose “‘Boulder’ Thesis” to diss Denver (or Palo Alto). But he acknowledged that by using this term, he was promoting Boulder and the great entrepreneurs and startups in Boulder.

    Think Like an Agilist

    Teaching Lean – Thinking Like and Agilist

    “Built in Denver” operates in that same spirit. We want to promote Denver – not at the expense of other great cities in Colorado – but in a way that proves beneficial to the entire state and this regional ecosystem.

    What’s happening in Denver that warrants this focus? Many, many things. Denver Startup Week, from October 22nd – 27th, has to have been one of the biggest most compelling events for startups in the Denver’s history. More than 70 events. Incredible events that were so well attended they often required larger venues to accommodate all the people who signed up.

    And during Denver Startup Week, Galvanize had its coming out party. With capital, a curriculum, community leaders, a beautiful, well designed space, and a great team to support it, Galvanize captured even more attention that it had during the i4C campaign.

    Before Denver Startup Week, I was fortunate to serve as a judge as ten teams delivered their Denver Startup Weekend pitches. Jon Rossi did an incredible job pulling this together and is to be commended along with each of the organizers, teams and judges who devoted their time and energy.

    Jon Rossi

    But the real story of what’s happening right now in Denver is about the entrepreneurs and startups that have embraced the City of Denver as never before. Lodo is crawling with them! Built in Denver is a great way to call attention to this and give credit where credit is due: to the founders and entrepreneurs who are building new companies and the supporting institutions – including the academic institutions (MetroState, CU Denver, and DU); Michael B. Hancock, Mayor of Denver; Paul Washington, Executive Director, Office of Economic Development, City and County of Denver; and Tami Door, President & CEO, Downtown Denver Partnership.

    It bears mentioning that we still have a lot of work to do. Startups – like infants – are dependent and in need of care and feeding. Without this, they don’t survive and certainly don’t realize their full potential. I’ll leave to another post a discussion of the list of things that startups require, but among them are entrepreneurial leadership, mentors, sources of capital, an affordable pool of talent, and a supportive community that includes academic institutions and state and local government.

    It is my sincere belief that the future of Denver and of Colorado is being shaped right now. Think of it as the new frontier, perilous and not for the faint of heart, but offering the promise of an amazing future.

  • tomhigley 2:14 pm on December 19, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Kevin Systrom, National Geographic, , , Terms of Use   

    Instagram’s Terms of Service Challenges 


    By now, many of you have heard about the debacle faced by Facebook / Instagram over changes to Instagram’s terms of service. The blowback from this change was so substantial, so pervasive – across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit and more – that Instagram’s Founder, Kevin Systrom, was compelled to do an extensive blog post apologizing for the confusion. As Kevin says in the post:

    Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.

    But there are two important things to note here.

    First, Facebook’s acquisition has a very clear historical parallel in Google’s purchase of YouTube. Like Google’s purchase of YouTube, Instagram represented for Facebook both a huge opportunity and a way to neutralize what might have become a substantial threat. Recent reports have indicated that Twitter tried to buy Instagram only a short time before Facebook mounted its successful bid.

    But Facebook is not in the same position as Google was when Google acquired another exploding startup, YouTube. At that time, Google had its own video service (just as Facebook had its own photo sharing service when it acquired Instagram), but Google also had very very significant and growing revenues from its core business. As a result, Google was under far less pressure to turn its acquisition into a revenue-producing contributor to its bottom line. That gave YouTube time to experiment. And plenty of time to continue to build a huge audience.

    Facebook is not in the same comfortable position. Yes, it has been a juggernaut. Yes it has completed an IPO and has lots of cash. And yes it has enormous numbers of users. It also has substantial pressure to generate revenue. It cannot afford to take its time with Instagram. That is why it moved, as it did, to make substantial changes to its privacy policy and its terms of service.

    But there is a second important issue in the Instagram TOS debacle that has not been widely referenced in the media. Both Facebook and Instagram have been built with consumers in mind first and foremost. And the mantra has always been about connecting people. In a letter accompanying its IPO filing, Mark Zuckerberg extended this mission to businesses:

    We hope to improve how people connect to businesses and the economy.

    We think a more open and connected world will help create a stronger economy with more authentic businesses that build better products and services.

    But here’s the thing.  Instagram wasn’t built for businesses. And this shows up plainly in its recent misstep. The TOS changes that Instagram made might have been far more tolerable were the service only focused on consumers. These days, however, some very significant brands are using Instagram. National Geographic, for example, warned yesterday that it was seriously considering shutting down its Instagram account, and today SFGate reports that it has actually taken the step of suspending its Instagram account. Why? Because the policies that might work for consumers are fundamentally intolerable for businesses.


    National Geographic cannot continue to create content that would be owned and controlled exclusively by Instagram. Forbes writes:

    National Geographic has announced that it will stop posting pictures to Instagram. The move comes after the photo-sharing social network introduced a controversial new terms of service agreement that sparked fears it would be able to sell users’ uploaded images.

    To be fair, Kevin Systrom points out clearly in yesterday’s blog post that this is not Instagram’s position or intention.

    Ownership Rights Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos. Nothing about this has changed. We respect that there are creative artists and hobbyists alike that pour their heart into creating beautiful photos, and we respect that your photos are your photos. Period.

    But the implication was there, and the fear about this was great. No major brand can suffer its content to be included in advertisements without prior approval.

    I think Instagram understands this. It will certainly do whatever it can to address these issues as is evident from another excerpt in Kevin’s blog post:

    Advertising on Instagram From the start, Instagram was created to become a business. Advertising is one of many ways that Instagram can become a self-sustaining business, but not the only one. Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.

    To provide context, we envision a future where both users and brands alike may promote their photos & accounts to increase engagement and to build a more meaningful following. Let’s say a business wanted to promote their account to gain more followers and Instagram was able to feature them in some way. In order to help make a more relevant and useful promotion, it would be helpful to see which of the people you follow also follow this business. In this way, some of the data you produce — like the actions you take (eg, following the account) and your profile photo — might show up if you are following this business.

    The language we proposed also raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement. We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question. Our main goal is to avoid things like advertising banners you see in other apps that would hurt the Instagram user experience. Instead, we want to create meaningful ways to help you discover new and interesting accounts and content while building a self-sustaining business at the same time.

    Here’s the bottom line. Instagram successfully harnessed the enormous enthusiasm users have for capturing interesting photographs and using those photographs to communicate with others – friends, family, strangers with similar interests, or customers of a business. At some point, businesses will be able to take full advantage of the kind of power that Instagram delivered for the benefit of consumers. That may happen through Instagram (as a part of Facebook), or it may happen because another service delivers on the promise that Instagram presents to businesses and their customers. We’ll have to see. In the meantime, Instagram will have to be very careful about how it communicates with its customers. It isn’t just about consumers anymore.

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