Monday, December 29, 2008

Year in review: things I learned

Its almost the end of 2008, and everyone and their brother is doing a "year in review" list. As I am a sheep (baaaa!), here is my list of the things that I learned this year:

  • Starting a company is hard (had to go with the obvious one first)
  • Starting a company without millions of dollars to fund it is really hard
  • Starting a company without millions of dollars to fund it in a recession is really, really hard
  • Blogging can be therapeutic (for me, at least!)
  • Virtual worlds are still very much in their infancy and companies won't be doing widespread adoptions until the technology is more interoperable with existing technologies 
  • Technology companies driving the sales of virtual worlds for enterprise is a recipe for disaster for the industry
  • Other smart people are out there trying to figure out how to leverage new technologies for learning
  • I learned about a lot of these smart people through some of these technologies (thank you Twitter!)
  • Avatars really can create a link to physiological and emotional responses in a 3D environment
  • You can develop friendships with people who "live" in your computer, but real life friendships and relationships are still so much better, and shouldn't be neglected
  • Being a Pollyanna is sometimes necessary, and sometimes harmful
  • Traveling a lot makes you forget who you are a little
  • There's a big difference between entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs, and sometimes who is and who isn't surprises you
  • Its important to have a good lawyer (sharkweasel) and a good accountant
  • Its important to have a good mentor
  • Its important to have a good friend who you don't work with
  • It helps to be friends with the people you work with
  • Patience is more than a virtue, its a necessity
  • Everyone should be so lucky to love what they do
All in all, there were lots of things I learned this year--about running a business, about the industry I'm in, about myself. I'm looking forward to continuing my education in 2009.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Social media literacy

Many moons ago, I did my Master's thesis on media literacy in education. It was a pretty unconventional topic at the time, but I was intrigued by the application of critical thinking skills to the analysis of popular media, specifically advertising and news. With the media affecting so much of kids lives, I felt like learning how to find truth in media was just as important to learn as analyzing a Shakespearean sonnet.

Funny, and sad to admit, but the Internet was just not a major media player at the time I did my thesis. I've thought over the last decade or so about how my research might have been different given the paradigm shift in how people get information and entertainment. And in the last couple years, with the emergence of social media, I've really adjusted my thinking even more.

Let's start with a definition of media literacy. There are lots of them, but I like this one from Rick Shepard:

Media literacy is an informed, critical understanding of the mass media. It involves examining the techniques, technologies and institutions involved in media production; being able to critically analyze media messages; and recognizing the role audiences play in making meaning from those messages.
Source: Rick Shepherd, "Why Teach Media Literacy," Teach Magazine, Quadrant Educational Media Services, Toronto, ON, Canada, Oct/Nov 1993.

Check out more definitions and opinions on the Media Awareness Network.

One of the most interesting things about media literacy for me was the "third level" of study: looking at who controlled and filtered the messages conveyed through the media and to what purpose. I'm not typically a conspiracy theorist, but I do believe that people always have a purpose, and power corrupts absolutely. Thus the emergence of the "liberal media" and Fox News--news with an underlying purpose of pushing their "agenda."

So how does this relate to social media? And is there such a thing as social media literacy?

Social media, although diverse and much more egalitarian in its source, is still a form of media. No matter the source of content, the principles of media literacy still apply. Questions like: Who is the source? What is their agenda? What perspectives are you not hearing? --are all questions that should be applied to any form of communication in order to truly "get it." Social media may not always have the same goal of mass media in communicating a message to a large, diverse audience, but applying the same analysis principles is essential to understanding the purpose of the messages communicated. In fact, its essential that as new technologies and methods of communication are adopted that we look at how communication is changing, and why.

One of the challenges I had in studying media literacy was that, in the end, what media education hopes to teach is the critical analysis of media messages. What essentially are media messages? Communication. Communication is a much broader scope than just media, so then, is the critical analysis of communication simply "literacy"? The traditional understanding of literacy is simply being able to read. But in order to truly succeed in modern culture, you must be able to do more than just read. You need to be able to "read between the lines," to question, to challenge, to critique. Check out this article about the need for integrating social media literacy into mainstream education.

As social media expands and media changes and evolves, critical thinking skills are a constant.

So, yes, there is such a thing as social media literacy, just as there is media literacy, just as there is literacy. There is simply more of a need for awareness of the importance of critical analysis of all of the forms of communication you are exposed to every day.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The day after

If you celebrate it, I hope you had a Merry Christmas. If you don't, I hope that you and the people you love spent time together this week, celebrating Hannukah, Kwaanza, Festivus, or just hanging out together.

Today, December 26th, is for me, the day after. Christmas is the big day, everything building up to it for months. Planning, preparation, excitement, anticipation...all leading up to one big event. December 26th is the day after, the day where you evaluate the spoils of Christmas.

I think the day after Christmas is really the most important time: evaluation and reflection. The inevitable relief that comes after a major event sinks in and you have time to think about what just happened.

This year, in the craziness and overwhelming amount of stress and work that has come with starting Tandem, Christmas (like so many other things have) took a back seat. We're running lean, and this is the first year that we implemented the "no presents for adults policy" in my family. Even my husband and I didn't exchange gifts; we agreed to make each other something instead.

You know what? This was the best Christmas I've had in a really long time. It wasn't about presents. It wasn't about how much money I spent. It was about being together, playing with the new toys Santa brought, and remembering that the people who you love are the most important thing in life.

Geography and logistics make it impossible for me to be with everyone who I love all at one time. One thing that I realized today in my day-after reflection is that I need to make sure that I take advantage of any opportunity to let the people who I love know how much I appreciate them. So, to my family and my friends who mean so much to me, I'm going to try to spread a little Christmas cheer throughout the year.

Now, let's get ready for New Year's!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The future of learning

After reading this blog post on The Future of the Web, I realized that perhaps I should actually write down the things I've been saying over the course of this year about the future of learning. The end of the year is usually when people start making predictions, and since I'm constantly talking to people about my predictions for what learning will look like in 5, 10, 20 years, I'm ready to put my predictions out there for comments, praise, and here goes. For what they're worth, here are my thoughts on the future of learning...

Within 5 years:
-The majority of the population will have some experience engaging with online content as an avatar
-All Fortune 500 companies will have some implementation of virtual worlds, most likely as a tool for learning and collaboration
-Social networking tools will routinely be used as tools for developing learning communities
-Serious games, simulations, and immersive learning environments will be standard additions to corporate learning curriculum
-Print training modules will no longer be developed and "printed" but will be delivered through interactive and searchable online tools
-Conferences will all incorporate online components, with sessions held virtually and incorporating social media for community building and discussion

Within 10 years:
-The K12 educational system, higher education, and corporate learning will all incorporate virtual worlds as a daily tool integrated into how students and employees learn
-Curriculum will revolve more closely around user-generated content, development of learning communities, and social media
-Knowledge management for enterprise will be dynamic and fluid, facilitated and monitored by the organization but developed and maintained by the learning communities within organizations
-With the capacity to develop experiential learning, performance objectives will usurp learning objectives and ROI (or ROE) will routinely be measured for learning initiatives based on cost savings, revenue generation, decreased turnover, etc.

Within 20 years:
-There will be complete interoperability between the now often divergent learning systems--LMSs, knowledge management, assessment, social media/networks
-People will routinely be immersed in virtual worlds and virtual content online
-People will have an online "identity" which will include an avatar representation that is used to engage with content across the web
-Virtual reality environments will replace 3D immersive environments, allowing for even more experiential learning

I'm sure that I'll be surprised about which of these predictions happen a lot faster than I think, and which of them never materialize. I'm also sure that there will be some amazing breakthrough innovations that I can't imagine that will change the game completely

I'm also pretty sure that I'm going to be really excited to be a hologram someday.

The waiting IS the hardest part

We've been putting together a lot of proposals and pitches for prospective clients. All this activity has been exciting and energizing--frankly, we love what we do, and its fun to talk to people about it. What's not so fun is that in all of these conversations, we're still waiting to see if we get the projects.

The time between pitching and being awarded a project (or not) is brutal. There's not much you can do. You don't want to check in too much and be annoying, but there's also something to be said for a post-pitch follow up. Unless you have an inside track, most of the decision-making on the client side is a bit of a mystery.

All of this is made more difficult by a couple obvious characteristics of Tandem: we're only about a year old, and we're talking about solutions that are relatively new in enterprise learning. People might be interested in the ideas that we have (good!) but nervous about trying something new (bad!). And at the end of the day, their propensity to work with a smaller, agile company with innovative ideas may be trumped by the idea of going with a traditional solution.

The funny thing is, all of this is just speculation, until you hear back from the client. Until then, try to keep busy working on the next presentation...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Virtual Worlds News article on Tandem Learning

A little write up on Tandem Learning today in Virtual Worlds News. If you were wondering, I like Second Life more than Jedd does.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Grey day

I woke up today ready to take stuff on. It didn't quite turn out that way.

When my oldest was a toddler, his favorite book was Dr. Seuss's My Many Colored Days. I still can pretty much recite the whole book word for word, but my favorite day was the grey day. "Grey day. Everything is grey...I watch. But nothing moves today." The illustration was a zoomed-in illustration of a grey owl's huge yellow eyes.

Today was a grey day. Nasty weather, unexpected (and completely unwarranted) harassment from American Express, discussion of end of year financials and planning for next year. I was in a lovely mood.

It would have been easy to let the grey take over and render me motionless. It would be easy to just watch, not move.

Funny thing is, I'm not much of a grey kinda person. By the time I left the office, there was a bit of a spark, and by the time I got home, the fire was raging again. So I'm ending the day ready to take stuff on. Guess it wasn't much of a grey day after all, no matter what the weatherman says.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Take the money or run?

When I started Tandem, I decided that it would be great to do it without finding any outside investors. To be honest, I didn't want to share the fruits of my hard work with someone just because they had some money lying around to let me borrow. I didn't have millions of dollars in the bank, but I did, luckily, have some clients with some projects. And I didn't have a noncompete with my previous employer. So off I went, funding Tandem through project work and trying to run lean.

You may have noticed that the economy is in a recession. It was in a recession when I started Tandem, but nobody was calling it that yet. Now, however, all of the VC that was probably a bit easier to get when I started is not so easy to come by. Check out this TechCrunch article on VC and start ups that really echoes my sentiments. Not only is the nature of VC changing, but project money is a little lighter too. What to do, what to do?

The answer is get innovative. The answer is to look hard at everything that you're doing and cut out all but the important stuff.

I'm not saying I would never take on additional capital. But I am saying that I'd have to feel pretty justified that there were no other options, that I really would need it.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Compiled observations from the I/ITSEC conference

I just attended my first I/ITSEC conference. For those of you interested in an overview of the scene, check out a smarter person's description.

I decided to attend for a few reasons. First, there are a few industries that always have money and spend it on training. Pharma is one, government and military is another. Having tapped the pharma industry for years, I thought it might be nice to expand my radar. Besides opportunity, I found the idea of learning about government and military training fascinating, and definitely out of my comfort zone. Having started in K12 education and then focusing on corporate learning for phase two of my career, I like the challenge of learning about another whole sector that I know very little about.

So, what did I think? Here are my thoughts and observations in no particular order...

Its definitely a man's world. There were barely any women there, much fewer than the tech & gaming conferences. I got looked up and down more than a new cow on auction at the county fair. If I went to a booth with another male, I was ignored (after I was looked up and down). The most useful conversations I had was when I wandered off alone.

There are a lot of acronyms and information about the industry that take some time to learn. It's kinda the same with pharma, but I know all the MLR and MVA and DDMAC stuff like the back of my hand. Getting the lingo down for newbies is a serious undertaking in the government military sector, and it helps to have a friend or two to help you out, which leads me to...

Its nice to have a friend or two to help you out when you're learning about a new market segment. We were lucky to have a pretty selfless guide during the conference. I can't imagine it would have been nearly as useful to go without having someone to give us the lay of the land and introduce us to people.

The expo was all about show, not substance. The booths showcased amazing technology and graphics, but if you asked how the technology could be applied to training, there were a lot of blank stares. For a conference focused on training, that was a little disconcerting. Besides the flight simulators and other tactical learning, I didn't see a lot of innovation on the learning front. Frankly, for a segment with so much money, I was really disappointed with the lack of awesome examples of complex decision-making simulations.

And finally, virtual worlds have a long way to go. There were a couple companies there that I know (Forterra, Caspian Learning, Qwaq, to name a few). I continue to be underwhelmed with how other companies are developing learning using virtual world technology. The capabilities are out there, the application of those capabilities is still not. The panel session that was supposed to focus on developing learning communities using virtual worlds and serious games was a complete disappointment (except for the speaker from North Carolina Virtual Schools). Most of the examples shown had poor user interface design and could have been developed in Flash more easily and cost effectively. The longer people squander virtual world technology on mediocre to poor solutions, the more degraded this technology will be become for new prospective customers and markets. Where are the cool examples, the innovative designs? Where are the tie-ins to existing learning technologies and systems?

Guess we'll have to work on that.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Recession tips for new CEOs

I was reading this TechCrunch article this morning, and wanted to pass it along. Interesting perspectives, and nice justification for my opinion that people who are more aggressive in a slow market win.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Last laugh

I was watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade with my kids (who for the first time ever seemed interested) when I was rick rolled (click here to get rick rolled yourself). Yep, there he was, Rick Astley, telling me he was "Never Gonna Give You Up." And I thought to myself, whoever planned that for the Macy's parade had a fantastic sense of humor.

Later, I was thinking about Rick Astley. Here's a guy who probably thought his career, at least major market career, was over. And then, he became an Internet joke sensation. He had two choices: fight it or rick roll with it.

Rick Astley's career probably didn't turn out the way he thought it would. But he's making the best of it, and taking advantage of his opportunities.

I'd like to think I'd rick roll with it, too.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Thanksgiving is a great holiday. There are the obvious things: turkey and all the fixin's, pie (of course!), Lions football, and generally doing nothing all day but eating. When I started hosting Thanksgiving dinner at my house, I started a tradition. During dinner, each person must say something that they are thankful for. It doesn't sound like it should be that hard, and its not if you don't give it much thought. Over the years, though, its become a serious endeavor during our Thanksgiving meal. Last year, we spent Thanksgiving at my sister's in Michigan, having traveled there for my grandmother's funeral. We were all so emotional that week, we forgot the tradition, until my then 5 year old said on the way back to our hotel that night, "Hey! We forgot to say what we were thankful for!" And so, I suppose, I've created a tradition that hopefully I'll pass down to my children.

This year, we're in Michigan again. This has been an exceptional year for me, for lots of reasons. There have been lots of fantastic accomplishments, excrutiating heartache, and unbelievable stress.

Because I have this blog now, and I've got a little time to think before my official announcement at dinner tomorrow, here's what I'm most thankful for: peoples' belief in me.

I'm a fairly confident person. Some might even say too confident. But this year has tested my faith, my optimism, and sometimes my sanity. If not for the support of my amazing family, my beloved Tandemites, my friends who never fail me and my new friends with fresh perspectives, I'd not be so confident in the bright future ahead.

I have some amazing people in my life. They all support me in different ways, big and small. I don't know what the future holds, but I'm grateful, humbled, and truly thankful for the gifts of love and friendship I've received this year.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


One of the hardest things for me over the last year has been venturing out into new markets, new clients, new technologies, new conferences, new, new, new. My natural instinct is to stick to what I know, what's comfortable, and what I know that I'm good at. Its difficult to know every day that you're probably doing something you haven't done before. For someone as competitive as I am, its almost crippling to not know if I'm going to be successful in the new things I do that day.

I hope in another year's time, everything won't be so new. And I hope that there are still lots of new things to challenge me. New is not intrinsically good, nor is it necessarily bad. Its just new, and has to be sorted out. Its the unknown of the new that makes it so nerve-wracking. New things open you up to make mistakes. But they also make you think, re-evaluate, and sometimes improve.

Although all of the new things at once has been a huge challenge this year, its been much better than the same ol', same ol'.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


We had a looking-inward day; reviewing progress, processes, and plans for moving forward. We haven't done that in a while, with all of the activity over the past couple months. We realized that some things we have been letting slide that we shouldn't. We saw things that we need to do that we haven't.

Most importantly, we just took a moment to reflect. To talk as a group about some ongoing issues. We reconnected.

Sometimes there's nothing more valuable that you can do as a company than pause to look at where you've been, figure out where you are, and make a plan for where you're going.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Death of a Virtual World

Google announced today that they're killing Lively as of December 31st. For anyone in the virtual world space, I think this is a double-edged sword. Sure, its nice in some respects that Google didn't come in and sweep everyone else out of the market with the killer app that would take virtual worlds mainstream. At the same time, it sucks that Google didn't come in and sweep everyone else out of the market with the killer app that would take virtual worlds mainstream.

Most people agree that the internet will be transformed within 5 years to include virtual environments, avatars, and 3D interactions as a matter of course. Most people agree that virtual worlds are likely to be a primary means of interaction and communication in the future.

But until the technology comes along that has sophistication for skilled users and intuitiveness for everyone else, virtual worlds will continue to die.

RIP Lively.

Monday, November 17, 2008

DevLearn 08 debrief

Today was our first day back from DevLearn 08 and like good learning professionals, we conducted a debrief. Although we've been attending several conferences this year, this was our first conference where we were exhibiting. We made a lot of assumptions and we took a few leaps of faith.

Here's an overview of some of our major decisions:
-We were late in registering, so ended up with a lounge in one of the hallways instead of a booth in the Expo Hall.
-We spent a lot of time creating marketing materials to represent what we're doing.
-We planned a wine tasting event one evening to bring additional people over to talk to us in a more social environment.
-We did a Master Class where we were able to talk specifically about our Virtual Immersion methodology, and the Virtual Territory specifically.

At the show, it was clear that some of our decisions were good ones. Although we didn't intend to get a lounge, our location by the bathrooms, in a corner of the hallway by the Serious Games Zone and on the way to the lunch and keynote area, was ideal. And we had the opportunity to set up tables so that we could actually sit down with people and give demos. There were several other vendors that complained that we were given preferential treatment in our location--ha! I have to say, it was really much better not being clumped in the Expo Hall. We were complained about to the conference management. We were complimented on our display. We met some really interesting people throughout the show and at our wine tasting. Overall a fantastic coming out party, and sure to be the standard by which all future conferences where we exhibit are measured.

Here were the notes from our debrief today:
What went well:
• Having seating area to conduct demos and have more private, detailed conversations
• Crib notes for our talking points
• Having a large monitor to display our work
• Wine event
• Made noise and got people's attention
• Showed our expertise in the application of virtual worlds to learning
• Good coming out party
• Showed the ability to tailor our messages to different audiences

What we should do differently next time:
• New demo reel
• Maybe audio on the demo reel?
• Attend more sessions
• Always go to lunch with the attendees
• Practice the short and detailed pitches
• Prep more data


There are lots of people who are smart, people who can figure things out, people who really "get it" when you talk to them about something. Sometimes these smart people are wrong. Worse, right or wrong, smart people are not always the people able to make the big decisions. And sometimes smart people, right or wrong, aren't able to convince decision-makers (who may also be smart, but not always) to listen to them.

Data is a powerful sword for smart people. I could write about how data can be twisted, manipulated, etc...but let's keep this short and focused and assume that data is valid and smart people have good intentions.

Data can help a smart person who is wrong recognize it. Data can help smart people who are right prove it.

And data can sometimes make a person smart.

Be on the lookout for data, both that supports your viewpoint and that conflicts with it. Once you have an opinion that the data supports, use that data to convince others.

There's nothing more convincing than a smart person who's got great data to back her (or him) up.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

PRESS RELEASE: Tandem Learning Launches Virtual Territory™

Excited to officially announce our press release on the Virtual Territory™:

Tandem Learning Launches Virtual Territory™
Practice Makes Performance in the Virtual World

EXTON, Pennsylvania -November 13th, 2008– As part of an initiative to create a new standard for enterprise-wide training, Tandem Learning announced the launch of Virtual Territory™, the first product in their Virtual Immersion™ Series. An immersive learning environment, Virtual Territory™ combines virtual world technology with simulation, competitive features and comprehensive data collection and tracking.

While traditional training materials such as print, e-learning, and live workshops can establish a common knowledge base, they fall short of effectively preparing learners to apply that knowledge in a real world setting. Virtual Territory™ was created to accelerate the learning process from knowledge acquisition to application by providing an engaging and realistic setting in which to practice using new skills.

Koreen Olbrish, CEO of Tandem Learning, said: “In today’s economy, ensuring your sales force hits their goals is more important than ever. The Virtual Territory is a breakthrough training solution for organizations trying to cost-effectively improve the performance of their sales team. We work with our clients to create experiences that address their specific training needs and properly represent their industry.”

Comprehensive data tracking allows enterprises to monitor trends and analyze learner performance. This data is invaluable in determining performance gaps that can be addressed through additional experiences in the virtual world, coaching, or other future learning initiatives.

Also in development as part of Tandem’s Virtual Immersion™ Series are virtual training environments targeting communication skills, customer service and process training.

About Tandem Learning:
Tandem Learning provides strategic consulting on effective learning solutions, including the use of immersive environments and virtual worlds. Tandem’s expertise in the areas of learning theory and instructional design results in the creation of practical, effective learning solutions. These solutions not only build a knowledge base within an organization, but also change behavior to improve organizational performance. There is nothing more effective than working in Tandem.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How much does it cost?

We're deep in proposal writing mode on multiple projects and about to talk to countless people at DevLearn 08 this week about the work that we do. No matter how fantastically appropriate, effective, and downright awesome your solutions are to your clients problems, eventually, you need to tell them how much its going to cost to implement your brilliant ideas.

I propose a challenge to all of us out there on the "vendor side"--don't just tell them how much it will cost. Tell them how much money they'll make.

Not a completely radical idea, but how many of us include this in our conversations and proposals? I'm not simply talking about saying "cost saving" or "improved processes"--everyone says that. I mean, give them some numbers or percentages. "Your sales are likely to increase between 5 and 20%." "You'll save an average of $300 per year per employee on travel expenses by making one meeting virtual."

Great idea, I'm sure you're thinking, but how do I get that data? Ha! Yes, well, here's my other challenge to you--don't end your projects with the delivery of your "final" product. All of us should be sticking around a bit longer and collecting data on the effectiveness of our projects, products and services. You remember those learning objectives? Performance objectives? Sales objectives? Time to start establishing baselines and then actually measuring results. And Voila! Data for you to share.

We all talk about developing effective learning solutions. Do you have the data to back up your claims? If not, you better start thinking about how you'll be gathering that data. I'm much more interested in saying "It'll cost you X but save you/make you Y" than just "it'll cost you X." Aren't you?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Defying categorization

I've been working on my presentation for DevLearn 08 in San Jose. The title is: Virtual Territory: The Future of Learning in Virtual Worlds. I'm really excited to present, first because I have more than 5 minutes, and second because I'm a ham that misses teaching. But the presentation slides, which I typically have no problem pulling together, are going SLOWLY. I finally figured out why. We're not just talking about the future of learning in virtual worlds. I'm really talking about the future of enterprise learning, and our Virtual Territory doesn't fit into a nice, neat category like virtual world or simulation or serious game, or even learning management system. Its all those things, and more.

How do you explain a new concept? By trying to compare it, or contrast it, to other things that people understand or identify with. It's difficult to do that with what we are doing. I'm not a real sales-y girl. I don't want to sound too cocky, or full of myself, or oblivious to what work others are doing.

At the same time, I haven't seen anyone else doing what we're doing. It makes what we're doing that much harder to explain and describe.

But I'm holding out hope that in a few years, people will be comparing what they do to our stuff.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What conferences are good for

I've been to a lot of conferences. If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you've seen my commentary on various conferences I've attended this year and my thoughts on what makes a good conference workshop, etc.

But what I really think conferences are good for is meeting new people and hearing new ideas. It doesn't do much good to attend a conference and only talk to the people you came with. Its nice to catch up with people who you know but rarely see, but honestly, you could contact most of these people outside of the conference structure. And workshops--well sometimes they are great and sometimes not so much. I recommend you check out vendors and see what they're up to. Do they have new products, new services? Could any of the ideas that people are talking about help you? Or find other people who you might otherwise think of as competitors and talk to them about your shared challenges. You never know how valuable these conversations can be, and it never hurts to have more friends who know your pain.

Next week, we'll be in San Jose at DevLearn '08. I'm excited to meet new people and talk about what the learning needs are in their organizations. I always find that these conversations spark new ideas, or revisions to my existing ideas. Sharing knowledge is powerful and I think conferences CAN facilitate those types of interactions.

Next time you attend a conference, make a list of things you want to learn more about, or people you want to talk to, and seek them out.

If you'll be in San Jose next week, come find me at the Tandem Lounge. I'd love to meet you.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I woke up this morning knowing who would be the next President of the United States. He's got a lot of work to do. I also woke up this morning knowing that we, Tandem, have a lot of work to do. Sometimes it seems like an insurmountable challenge. Sometimes it seems things have taken a positive turn, or you hear good news, only to hear bad news or have something bad happen. Plans don't always work out. Things don't always go your way, and you're not always lucky.

What you can always decide on is to believe that things will get better. You can always decide to have hope.

I woke up this morning feeling like I'm surrounded by hope. And I believe good things will happen.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

How to apologize

Last week, Seth Godin posted this in his blog...I thought it was interesting. It was even more interesting when, after receiving my weekly email of Verne's Insights and seeing that Verne had taken it upon himself to tell his readers who he was voting for and why, he sent a follow up email that day, with the title and text seen below.


You are right. I messed up. I'm sorry.‏

From: on behalf of Verne's Insights (
Sent: Fri 10/31/08 12:50 PM

OK, my deepest apologies - I tried something, giving people an option to read my thoughts on the election, which I shouldn't have and I simply ask for your forgiveness.

Obviously, I'm hearing positive comments from those that support my decision. However, I've heard from enough of you that it was a bad idea that I have to concur. This wasn't the right forum. What I care most about is helping growth firms and they seem to survive no matter what the situation so long as they keep their heads about themselves and remain disciplined - I'll stick to my message and find other forums for expressing my political thoughts (it's actually a hobby for me - I served in Washington and learned a great deal from the experience).

Keep on learning and growing,

The "Growth Guy"
Just goes to show that, really, sometimes you just need to say you're sorry.

Celebrating, Part 2

My great aunt passed away Friday night. She had cancer that had spread throughout her body and the 3 month window they had given her to live turned out to be 2. I loved her dearly, closer to her than maybe my grandmothers. She always treated me and my sister like adults, even when we were small. She always made me feel important.

Some funny things about my aunt:
  • She was a huge political activist, a very liberal democrat, and a lobbyist for women's rights. But she never had a drivers license and relied on others to allow her that particular freedom.
  • She was very image conscious, but never went to the dentist. Her teeth, one by one, rotted and fell out. 
  • I have no idea how much money she and my uncle had, but I always thought they were millionaires. They would always buy us "prizes" and these could be anything from a prize in a gumball machine to a $200 toy. She rarely said no.
  • She was the classiest woman in our family, always dressed to the nines, fabulous jewelry, makeup on, hair perfect--somewhat of a matriarch. But she could drink, smoke and curse with the dirtiest sailor you could find. One Mother's Day I remember (not too long ago), all she asked for is booze and she and my grandmother drank all day long.
  • She and my uncle ran the second largest cemetery in Michigan but she will not be having a funeral--her instructions (which no one will argue with, even now).
Since I won't have the chance to say goodbye to her in the traditional manner, I'm celebrating the life of my aunt by:
  • Eating ice cream
  • Buying a toy for each of my kids, and a big stuffed lion for me
  • Listening to jazz
  • Drinking martinis
I have lots of memories of my great aunt, memories of summers growing up, her sharing stories from before I was born. I always looked up to her. She was a presence in any room, a force to be reckoned with, opinionated, and got stuff done. She was my role model. I miss her deeply and figure she's already improving heaven.

Friday, October 31, 2008


This week has been full of celebrations, in Philadelphia (Go Phils!) and because of Halloween. It dawned on me that we haven't been celebrating enough around here at Tandem lately. So, to rally the troops, and remind myself how much progress we've made, here's some cool things that have happened over the last month...

  • We debuted our Virtual TerritoryTM in London
  • We passed our half million dollar mark in revenue recognized
  • We decided on our second logo
  • We created new marketing materials 
  • We developed a new website
  • We still haven't taken on any additional investors (despite the economy...)
  • We've met with 5-7 new potential clients, both in the US and internationally
  • We've talked to 3-5 people who are interested in selling our services both in the US and overseas markets
  • We've developed a sales and marketing strategy for 2009
  • We prepared for our first conference booth
And this is just in the last month...

There's something to be said for celebrating. Don't forget to appreciate and recognize your victories, big and small.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


A couple weeks to catch our breath, and suddenly, all of the preparation for big things is starting to pay off. The thing about momentum is that you can't force can prepare for it, foster it, you can support it, and sometimes, if you want to, you can stop it. Good work leads to more work. Activity leads to sales. Positive momentum can propel you forward.

The last three Mondays were brutal. This Monday, however, was filled with activity, hope, and possibility. Now that's the way to start a week...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Script from FastPitch at Virtual Worlds London

The video is still not up on, but in the meantime, you can imagine me saying the following with the accompanying slides. 

Slide 1:

Hi, my name is Koreen Olbrish, founder and CEO of Tandem Learning. I’m excited to introduce to you today our vision of the future of enterprise learning, the Virtual Territory™.

Slide 2:

Applying virtual world technology to create new methods of training has countless benefits and will create a shift in how organizations approach their learning initiatives. With so many benefits, it begs the question – why aren’t companies adopting this more quickly? Why aren’t we seeing more successful case studies?

For too long, a gap has existed between the technological capabilities of virtual worlds and the organizational needs of enterprises. The creation of a virtual world platform is just the first step in the solution. It’s the APPLICATION of that platform that is the key to success.

As a company with a background and expertise in instructional design and adult learning principles, we set out to create a learning methodology based around virtual world technology. The result is a revolutionary advancement in enterprise learning – The Virtual Territory™

Slide 3:

The Virtual Territory™ is a sales training tool that incorporates virtual world technology, content management, data tracking, key gaming features such as competition and randomization of events and simulation in an experiential and immersive learning environment.

The Virtual Territory™ mirrors a sales representative’s actual sales territory and provides opportunities for authentic practice in a digital environment. Sales representatives determine the appropriate selling messages for their various customers, which are closely modeled after identified customer segments. During each sales call, sales representatives select and utilize appropriate selling resources. And because there are more people involved in making a sale than just the target customer, sales representatives navigate the subtleties of a total office call.

Slide 4:

The Virtual Territory™ provides numerous benefits to learners, managers, and the organization as a whole:
Learners are exponentially more engaged, entertained, and accelerate from knowledge acquisition to application much more quickly, therefore improving their job performance.

Managers are provided with structured selling scenarios across their team of sales reps that yield more consistent and structured feedback and coaching.

Organizations have access to unprecedented data about sales representative decision-making, enabling companies to analyze behavioral trends and more accurately identify learning needs across the sales organization. All of this gives organizations the key information they need to make more strategic decisions about how their future training dollars are spent.

Slide 5:

What should you leave today knowing about Virtual Territory™? It will make organizations money AND it will save them money.
The Virtual Territory™ will make companies money by improving learning outcomes, leading to improved performance of the sales force, thereby increasing sales. Because managers will be able to provide better coaching and feedback, sales performance will improve. Finally, the Virtual Territory™ allows organizations to see across the entire sales force and identify where knowledge or skill is lacking. By addressing those areas in future training, the organization is more likely to hit its sales goals.

Now let’s talk about how the Virtual Territory™ will save money. Obviously, the Virtual Territory™ works to reduce travel costs, since sales representatives can engage in virtual role play activities instead of attending live workshops. By increasing learner motivation to participate in learning activities, the Virtual Territory™ helps save money. Investments in “once and done” learning initiatives that held questionable organizational value now shift to immersive, experiential learning with measurable results. Most importantly, once the Virtual Territory™ is built for an organization, it can be used again and again over time to incorporate new training initiatives.

Slide 6:

Having developed the structure and strategy for the Virtual Territory™, we are actively consulting with client organizations on how to implement this tool as the first step in the use of virtual world technology for enterprise.

One of the unique benefits of Virtual Territory™ is that it is really a training methodology – not a specific platform. We address the specific needs of each organization and choose the platform, which bests suits their needs on which to build the Virtual Territory™. To that end, we are always interested in speaking with potential platform partners

Virtual Territory™ is a tool that takes a complex real world training process and delivers it to any employee anywhere, anytime for less cost and with benefits that can’t be achieved in the real world without significant monetary or time investment.
We look forward to speaking to you more about this and our other innovative applications of virtual world technology for enterprise learning. Thank you for five minutes of your time.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New look!

In case you didn't notice, I updated the blog (kinda) with our new logo. Gone is our friendly green...and the speech bubbles. I'll probably tinker with it a bit more, but the rebranding of Tandem Learning has begun!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Session blog: Using Virtual Worlds for Supporting Business and Enterprise

The following are my notes from a session at Virtual Worlds London...apologies for the sketchiness, I was taking notes live.

Dr. Sara de Freitas, Director of Research
SGI (Serious Games Institute)
Coventry University Technology Park

  • by 2011 80% of all active internet users will have an avatar (Gartner)
  • currently 80 vws, next year another 100, (100+ aimed at kids)
  • studies demonstrating the efficacy of serious games for training
  • wide uptake of social software (eg, facebook, wikipedia)
  • lines between vws, games and social software are blurring
How can you use virtual worlds in business?
  • support b2b collaboration and communication
  • meet with customers remotely located
  • provide training for sales staff
  • provide mentoring and support staff

*Business Nexus Island (SL)
*New hire orientation on OLIVE

Spending on Gaming:
by 2011, $12.5 billion US, $48.9 billion Global

Demo of serious game: 

***Data shows significant difference in learning between traditional learning and game play

"New" research on efficacy
Edgar Dale, Cone of Learning (Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching (3rd Edition) Holt
Chi et al 1989

Strengths of virtual worlds for learning:
  • accelerated learning
  • engagement
  • motivation
  • role-plays
  • rehearsal
  • longevity of learning
  • experiential/exploratory learning

Will Virtual Worlds change how we do business?
*Virtual Philadelphia

KO commentary:
I thought this was the best session I attended. One reason, it wasn't a panel. Another, it focused on learning and research, and let's face it...that's my thing. I think the opportunity for data and case studies emerging in the next 6 months that demonstrate superior learning outcomes in these types of training programs is all but guaranteed. Once these outcomes have been proven, the future of enterprise learning will change forever.

5 minutes of fame

Yesterday I did a 5 minute FastPitch presentation at Virtual Worlds London conference. It was during cocktail (ok, beer) hour, but still there were probably about 100 people in the room. The five minutes were fine, although I do wish that there were more people in the room who might have been interested in buying something as opposed to scouting out the competition.

The video will eventually be up on but I'll post an update when its available (if I'm not so utterly humiliated that I can't bear for anyone to see). 

I will say, it was harder to plan for those 5 minutes than any longer presentation I've done. I went back and forth on sticking to a script or winging it...I ended up reading, but every bone in my body wanted to wing it. I regret just showing slides and not an actual demo. I am glad a had a few sips of beer before I took the stage (and then finished that said beer after). I was happy that I didn't go over my five minutes and have to be escorted off stage. I'm upset that the rest of my Tandem cohorts weren't there to celebrate, but at least my London wingman was. 

Now looking forward to what kind of trouble I can cause at DevLearn in San Jose...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Take a deep breath

About 12 years ago, I went through a period of time when I had panic attacks, or anxiety attacks, almost every day. I have mitral valve prolapse, and occasionally my heart stops beating, just for a second. But when it resumes, its like a big rush of blood tries to make up for the lost beat and I flush and feel light headed. That would trigger a pretty extreme sense of panic in me, and there were a few times I went to the emergency room thinking that I was dying. 

I'm being a bit cavalier about it now, but at the time, I didn't think my life would ever be normal. I couldn't really drive, because that was a trigger of the seemed that once I was panicking about one thing, other things set it off too. I remember a conversation with my mom, when I told her I didn't want to have to live the rest of my life like that, scared at any moment that panicky feeling would take over. I considered going on medication, but my body doesn't respond well to drugs and I was upset thinking that I might have to depend on something for the rest of my life to be normal (not to mention all the side effects). 

So, I just decided I was going to control it myself. I started practicing yoga and meditating. I developed strategies of what to do when I felt myself starting to tighten up with panic. And slowly, over a few months, I finally took control. Today, all I really need to to when I start to feel anxious is take a deep breath and things seems to resolve themselves. 

What does this have to do with Tandem Learning?

Well, I'm feeling anxious. We're about to do some crazy stuff. We're really throwing ourselves out there. It's exciting and frightening and yes, if there was any such appropriate time for me to panic, it might be now. 

So, I'm taking a deep breath. Doing some meditation, maybe a little yoga. Its important not to let the stress, the anxiety, the panic take over because it paralyzes you. 

It's important to remember to breathe. 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Across the pond

Heading out to London tonight for the VW conference on Monday and Tuesday. If you're going, come find me or contact me through Passport. If you're not, stay tuned for news from the conference. We're prepping for our FastPitch presentation (5 minutes...i can't even say my name in less than 5 minutes!) and looking forward to catching up with the usual suspects. Also meeting up with some old friends...I'm ready for a whirlwind!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The intersection of adult learning principles and virtual worlds

I just posted the following brainstorm in ThinkBalm's Innovation Community. For those of you not a member of that community, I'd love to hear your feedback here! 
With the introduction of any new technology that can be used for learning, often what we know about how adults learn is thrown out the window because the new technology is "cool" and will "increase motivation." Eventually, though, adult learning theory wins.

Here are a list of proven adult learning principles for e-learning, and how they intersect (or don't) with virtual world technology:

Modality principle: audio narration, not on-screen text, should drive instruction
Virtual worlds are typically driven by visuals and supported by audio or instant messages (text chat). Although chat is text on-screen, it is dynamic in a way that mirrors audio, unlike the static text in e-learning modules or PowerPoint presentations. I would argue that virtual worlds adhere to the modality principle of adult learning.

Redundancy principle: on-screen text should key-point the narration, not provide a transcript
This principle again challenges us to consider the meaning of on-screen text. If we compare text chat to audio narration, then virtual worlds provide little other on-screen text, unless a presentation or text pieces are provided in-world. In these cases, to adhere to the redundancy principle, those print pieces should be focused on key points.

Seductive augmentation principle: don't use extraneous, distracting sound or visuals
This may be the biggest challenge of virtual worlds for learning. Part of the opportunity of virtual worlds are the openness of them. This openness can lead to a variety of distractions that can diminish the effectiveness of learning, making this a very difficult principle to execute in a virtual world.

Personalization principle: use a conversational style
If the seductive augmentation principle is the most difficult to manage in a virtual world, personalization is perhaps the easiest to incorporate. Interactions are by their nature personalized in a virtual world. Obstacles to personalization may include chatbots or artificial intelligence attempts that are awkward or demonstrate inaccuracies.

Practice principle: use interactive learning exercises to foster comprehension and anchor in long-term memory
Virtual worlds provide an opportunity for truly interactive learning exercises that allow users to practice what they learn. Just like a typical e-learning experience these exercises or opportunities for practice must be built into the learning. This is not automatically built into virtual worlds, but it is a principle that has much more creative, immersive possibilities in them.

Spacing principle: interactive learning exercises should be distributed throughout a lesson, and ideally spaced out over time
Similar to the practice principle, the spacing principle is more dependent on the design of the learning experience than on the technology. Virtual worlds allow for application of the spacing principle if the learning experience is designed to incorporate spaced activities.

Response contingent feedback principle: write interactive learning exercise answer feedback that is tailored to a learner's specific answer
Virtual worlds are developed around the concept of live interaction, thus response-contingent feedback would be an assumed part of any learning experience in a virtual world environment. Not only can feedback be response contingent, but it can also take the form of live coaching. This is a clear benefit of virtual worlds for learning over other e-learning methodologies.

Analogical learning principle: use analogies or comparisons to increase comprehension
Although analogies could certainly be designed into virtual world learning experiences, the true benefit of virtual worlds is the ability to allow users hands on experience and immersion in the environment or scenarios that they are learning about. One could argue that the entire virtual world is a mirror of the real world learning environment, and thus analogies are not as necessary...or that the entire virtual world is in some ways an analogy.

Mnemonic principle: use mnemonics to encode learning to long-term memory
The mnemonic principle is based on the assumption that there is some information that just needs to be committed to memory, and the use of mnemonics helps link those concepts to other existing concepts already in memory thus helping to more easily remember new concepts. As with several of the other principles listed here, virtual world learning experiences could certainly include mnemonics if incorporated in the learning experience.

From the above analysis, the biggest risk to the success of virtual world training design is seductive augmentation. Instructional designers working in virtual worlds should be thinking about the benefit/distraction ratio when developing virtual world learning experiences in order to minimize the negative effects of distractors.

In the end, it comes down to good instructional design: virtual world technology allows for new possibilities for practice and immersion, but adult learning theory must be applied in order for learning experiences to be effective.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Rock stars

I've been talking about rock stars for months...then received this post from Seth Godin a couple days ago, who's quoting Bob Lefsetz.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

One step at a time

I've written a lot about how busy I am. I probably sound like a broken record, and its not a surprise that starting a business takes up an inordinate amount of time. I write about it so much because of the overwhelmingness of it. There are probably no words to explain how it takes over every second of every minute of every day, like a giant gorilla sitting on your chest eating a banana (ok, banana is probably optional).

This weekend was a good example. I really just wanted to enjoy the fall weather, hang out with the family and relax. But the list of things I need to do is long and time sensitive. So I try to balance things out, but neither my work or my family really gets the attention they deserve.

I try to be patient and cut myself some slack, take one day, one minute, one second at a time. This state is only temporary. Or is it?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Rebranding trend: Best Buy is copying us!

Ok, so Best Buy was in desperate need of new branding, but in light of all of the conversations around branding and positioning we've been having at Tandem, I was interested to see what Best Buy is doing. See details on their rebranding efforts here.

It is a good time for a new look.

Baby, you're a star

I've been working on multimedia learning programs for years and years, and have been to countless audio recording sessions. Yesterday, for the first time, I was behind the microphone. It was nerve wracking! I think to a certain extent, anyone who's "confident" enough to start a company has enough vanity in them to want to be a star. And to a certain extent, it was cool to have the experience of recording audio.

There's a self awareness that comes with hearing yourself on tape, or seeing yourself on video. Its what makes it a good way to help people change their behavior, and many organizations record role play learning activities to evaluate performance.

I felt a little bit of that self consciousness yesterday. I think I preferred to be outside the recording booth. And I don't think I'll be listening to myself narrating the navigation of our demo any time soon...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

We're special

We've been neck deep in rebranding and prepping for our big PR launch. New logo, new website, new marketing materials, and an e-version of our demo all in process this week. We had to create descriptions of "who we are" and "what we do." We've had to seriously think about how we differentiate ourselves from other learning companies, or technology companies. We've had to figure out what makes us special.

The thing that's funny is that I think that stuff is obvious. But I know its probably only obvious to me. Its a challenge to figure out how to convey just the right amount of humor without being unprofessional, the right amount of confidence without being cocky, the right amount of marketing spin without sounding like a used car salesman.

I know we're smart, hard-working, committed to excellence. I know that we have great ideas, experience, and dedication. I know that we're special.

In a couple weeks, we'll see how well we were able to convey this to the rest of the world.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Good morning

I didn't go to bed until late last night, and of course, the baby had plans of her own for how I should be spending the wee hours of the morning. And, I'm not yet recovered from the ridiculous plague that has somehow managed to be hanging on and on and on.

But this morning, the sun is shining. We've got lots of stuff to do today, but that stuff is getting done. It doesn't quite feel like my New Year's regrouping, but I am filled with hope. Hope coupled with confidence and a good dose of actual getting stuff done can only lead to good things.

I'll be checking major items off my list today: logo selection, an e-version of our demo, a one sheet on the Virtual Territory. I may even hire someone.

Good morning everyone. Let's get this party started.

Funny fail (not) whale

Normally I would be annoyed that Twitter was down, again...and I would be angry with the Fail Whale. But look at the cuties who showed up when I attempted to late night tweet. How can you be upset with an ice cream cone and an inch worm??

AND...Twitter better be back up when I wake up in the morning, or I will not be so amused.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The agony of defeat

You can't ALWAYS win. Even with the best product, the most charming personality, the most accurate and fair pricing, the best plan, the most talented team...even with all those things, sometimes you still don't make the sale, or get the project, or get to hire the person you wanted. Sometimes you just don't win.

If you're competitive like I am, that doesn't make you feel much better. Of course you should have gotten the projects! Why wouldn't he want to work here? How could they possibly think that another company would do a better job?

But at the end of the day, really, all those things happen. Disappointment, and yes, sometimes even losing, is inevitable. I'm not saying that you should roll over and accept that sometimes you'll lose--oh no. But when the time comes that you're faced with losing, the question is: what are you going to do about it?

I would argue that the best course of action is to try again, and do better next time. Or in some cases, realize that maybe, sometimes, things work out the way they should. Even when you lose.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The beginning of our PR push

Received news yesterday that our application was accepted to FastPitch at the Virtual Worlds London conference. Five minutes to share how awesome the Virtual Territory is. I better talk fast (but not TOO fast, of course...).

Stay tuned to hear about where we'll be popping up next...

Activity leads to sales

A very wise friend told me when I first took on a sales role, not knowing the first thing about how to sell training, that activity leads to sales. The philosophy being that if you're working towards selling (contacting people, making connections, cold calling, etc.) that eventually you will sell something.

Of course, you can't just do any old thing. Just ANY activity will not lead to sales. But if you're following up with people, doing capabilities presentations, having actual conversations with prospective clients about their needs AND if you've got solutions to their problems, then you should eventually sell something.

This week has been all about activity. A few capabilities presentations, lots of emails and conversations, and future meetings set up. Its a good thing. I think we're being strategically active and I'm wondering if whatever sales result will push us into 2009 on a wave. A wave of sales is not a bad wave to be riding.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

No matter what

I was sick today. Really sick. I usually don't admit when I don't feel well, but after being up all night, I decided at 4:30 am that I was not going to be the best candidate to make it to our first client presentation today. Yep that's right, TWO client presentations in one day. Of all the days to be too sick to function, I have to pick the day that we have two client meetings.

So meeting one, I didn't make. My fellow rockstar took the reins and rocked it out in my stead. But I couldn't bring myself to miss the second. I went, on 1.5 hours of sleep and under heavy medications. It was a 15 minute presentation, in and out.

I don't know why I feel like I have something to prove. But I know that Tandem has to be successful, so whatever it takes, no matter what.

But now, I'm resting...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Not afraid of the big, bad economy

I've had numerous people ask me if I'm nervous about having just started a company before the economy takes a massive nose dive. I have an easy answer: no.

Maybe its my optimism, maybe it naivete, but I think if your company is built on talent, ideas, and work ethic, then unless your product is directly affected by the economic conditions (real estate, for example...) you can either look at the bad economy as an opportunity or a risk.

How can I see my new product as an opportunity? Well, for one thing, virtual worlds can enable organizations to reduce travel costs while increasing the intellectual capital of its other words, you can train people more effectively, remotely, using the Virtual Territory. And usually when companies are tightening down during bad times, investing in their people to improve performance is one of the ways to stay competitive in a bad market.

And it doesn't hurt that Seth Godin also thinks that bad economic times are times of opportunity for people who are willing to face the risk.

So, no, I'm not nervous. I'd be more nervous if there were more people who weren't nervous either. Then I'd just be one of the pack looking to make a buck off a good economy. Now my success will really mean something, and that means more to me.

Monday, September 29, 2008


I went away this weekend, and I didn't take my laptop (gasp!). Ok, honestly I still had my cell phone and my iphone, so it wasn't like I was completely cut off. But something about not having my laptop with me made me feel like I couldn't work, even if I wanted to.

It was fantastic.

I went shopping. I sat on the beach. I had drinks on a rooftop bar. I didn't work.

I'm back in the office today, and yes, back to the glowing pixels I know so well. As much as I'm happy to be back, part of me wants to turn the laptop back off and fly down to the beach for a little while longer. Sometimes its good to forget all the stuff going on and pretend like I'm a normal girl. Maybe when I retire someday I'll be a waitress at a restaurant on Ocean Drive in South Beach.

Then again, maybe it'd be better to own the restaurant.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Facing your fears

I've met a lot of entrepreneurs over the past few months. Before I started Tandem, a fellow entrepreneur said to me that no matter what he thought of the person personally, he always felt a kinship with and respect for any fellow entrepreneur that he met.

I didn't really understand what he meant at the time. Or at least I didn't know why he felt that way.

Now I do. I think there's a certain type of person that can do this, start a company from nothing, and be ambitious about it. I think it takes a person who can be scared to do something, but do it anyway. It takes a person to have enough faith in him or herself, to believe that things will work out because they will make them work. I think it takes a person who has a certain confidence, maybe a bit of arrogance, and not a small amount of optimism.

I think it takes a certain type of person who believes they can make something out of nothing. I feel that kinship now.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

When you least expect it

So I blogged earlier this week about how I anticipated this week would be bad. And sure, there are still lots of things hanging out there to be dealt with, and not all of them will be pretty. But surprisingly, its turning out to be a pretty good week.

One of the major projects we had hanging out there has come in, kicking off on Friday. I've heard back from some old contacts that I haven't talked to in a while, and that has been fantastic. A fellow Rockstar spec'd out our prospective resource needs over the next 6 months, and although its going to be hopping, now we have a much better sense of where we are. We're planning our trip to Virtual Worlds in London, and I'm getting excited about that.

Sometimes things aren't as bad as they seem.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Glass half empty

I'm usually a glass half full kinda girl. I tend to believe the best of people, and try to see the best in any situation. This week, although its only Tuesday, I've been noticing that I've lost some of my usual positivity (is that a word?).

I don't think negativity is helpful. I don't think anyone accomplished anything great by thinking negative thoughts. Great accomplishments are achieved by thinking that the impossible is possible, the ultimate in positive thinking.

Maybe its the prospect of the suddenly full dance card on the project horizon. Maybe its the reality of new relationships after the honeymoon phase is over. Maybe its the overwhelming desire to have something to show already for all this hard work the last few months. Maybe its knowing that however hard things have been so far, they are very likely to get harder. Maybe its the feeling that all this ultimately falls on me.

Wah, poor me. Because when I really think about it, we've done some pretty amazing things in 7 months. And although things will get harder, I'm not in this alone. Some of my very best friends are right here in the trenches with me. How can I feel negative with my amigos by my side?

So, I'm raising my half full cup to you, my friends. Let's drink to our success.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Flashback: VW LA '08 recap

Apologies for not getting this out more quickly; see my previous post for my "I'm too busy" excuse.

Honestly, I delayed blogging VW LA '08 because of my level of disappointment. I had attended VW NY in April, and was completely energized. LA left me equally deflated. Because this blog is late, and because I'd like to keep to the salient points, I'm not going to write up a play by play, but just some overall thoughts and experiences coming from the conference. So without further ado or build up:


There were some pretty big names that keynoted the conference: Tim Kring, Jon Landau, Collin Parris, Steve Parkis. Sadly, I thought the interview structure of the keynotes was a disservice to the speakers, and became as much about the interviewers as it was about the keynote speaker. Also a bit of a disappointment was that the keynotes obviously were peripheral (for the most part) to the nitty gritty of what's going on in virtual worlds, yet they were positioned as experts. What might have been more interesting (of course, just my opinion) is to hear how each of the keynotes, from their respective viewpoints, see virtual worlds impacting the future of media, movies, television, the Internet, enterprise, kids media, etc. The collective intelligence in the audience was far beyond that of the speakers, so to position them as experts was a bit of a farce that became painfully obvious as each of the keynotes progressed.

Exhibit Hall:

You know, most conference exhibit halls are the same. Booths, people looking awkward trying to talk to people about what they do and hopefully make some sales as a result of standing around for 2 days. I don't begrudge anyone for their conference efforts on the exhibit floor. AND...the exhibit hall was pretty small. I didn't see anything new that I hadn't seen in NY, and in some cases, booths were scaled down. There were less people/companies there overall. My particular favorite was the booth that no one was staffing, just some instructions on how to navigate to their demos on the laptops in the booth. Classic.


So the tracks included:
Virtual Worlds Hollywood
Virtual Worlds for the Enterprise
Virtual Worlds Kids
Future of Virtual Worlds
Technology and Results

My first question: where were all the people using virtual worlds in academia? Besides kids worlds, academia is where all the action, and certainly all the research, is. I was stunned that there wasn't an academic track. I was even more stunned that there really weren't that many people there from schools and universities. A huge miss, and an obvious one.

I mostly attended the Virtual Worlds for the Enterprise sessions. I can't speak for the other tracks, but that one was a ghost town. I was SHOCKED that there were so few people in the enterprise sessions. And at least half, if not more, of the people attending the sessions were vendors not actual enterprises. In April, more than half the room was filled with companies looking at virtual world technology. In general, I was disappointed with the attendance at the conference, but I was particularly disappointed with the Enterprise track.

A point of comparison to the Game Developers' Conference in Austin last week: the GDC sessions actually tried to teach attendees something, the VW LA sessions? Not so much. It seemed much more that speakers were limited by their experience, or by their willingness to share lessons learned. Every conversation seemed like it was tempered by a question of whether the person you were talking to was a competitor. I suppose when no one is making much money yet, that's what happens. But I don't believe in sacred knowledge, and every session I attended seemed like they were sharing the last bite of their steak dinner.


It seems like the same people keep showing up over and over. As previously mentioned, I was disappointed that more companies interested in integrating virtual worlds didn't attend. At 1300 attendees, I'd guess at least 800+ were vendor attendees. Not a bad thing, if the sessions were more geared at knowledge sharing. Which they really weren't. So there seemed to be a disconnect between the people who attended the conference and the flavor of the sessions.


For a marketplace that should be as dynamic as virtual worlds, very little had changed since April. The biggest thing I learned was that we're still ahead of the curve on our development of a training platform utilizing virtual world technology. Are there other sleeper companies out there? Perhaps...

And, my personal favorite quote of the conference: "There's about to be a knife fight in the alley between learning companies and technology companies. The learning companies are going to win."

Of course we are.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

No rest for the wicked

Today is Saturday, thank goodness. I'm trying not to work today (is blogging working?) and catch up on family time and sleep. The last three weeks have been a whirlwind, and although I knew that it was going to be crazy, I really had no idea. From Virtual Worlds LA, back to the office for a big presentation, and then off to Austin for the Game Developers' Conference last week (not to mention home on Friday for an 8 am sales meeting and afternoon meeting for another potential project), things are moving at a breakneck speed.

I've not had the time to collect my thoughts on lessons learned over the last few weeks, but I do feel motivated by the momentum. I think there is an opportunity for things to move so quickly that they spin out of control. I'm trying very hard to stay focused, not get too wrapped up in any drama, and keep my eye on the prize. It looks like we'll be busy the rest of this year; projects are starting to roll in. It looks like we'll be hiring, possibly doubling in size. It looks like we're going to end this year with at least one of the Virtual Territory products sold and in development (could be more than one, actually...).

At some point, it seems like all of this would allow me to take a breath. Unfortunately, it looks like things may just move faster. Hold on to your seats, everyone. Prepare for takeoff. I have a feeling we haven't seen anything yet.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What Google says about Lively

I'm trying a live blog today, during the Austin GDC session that Google is talking about Lively.

Kevin Hanna, Creative Director, Google Lively

Start with a technical difficulty--the microphones are buzzing loudly. Kinda appropriate, I think.

Day 1 at Google: 20%--Lively was a 20% project. Wanted it to bridge the gap between Picasso, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, etc.

Why the web? Everything is its own stand alone thing, but hopefully they work together. Wanted to provide a space that schools and universities could build their own worlds.

Shows an overview demo reel. Cool themed rooms, with a bunch of avatars standing around in them. Still allow for furries. I'm really fascinated by allowing Furry avatars. No Goreans?

12 base set characters at launch. lots and lots of customization options. Showing more screenshots of avatars standing around. Yep, that's about all you can do in Lively...

Lively avatars are fully embeddable in any html webpage. That's kinda cool, haven't tried that yet. Still, what's the point of my avatar standing around on a 2D website? My mouse works just fine.

Interactive Google gadgets discussion. Evidently he just announced something about interactive Google gadgets, but it was so underwhelming I missed it.

Authorized Google developers can build customized content for Lively. Anyone can get certified. Evidently all you can do is sign up.

WHY? The moderator asked. And the answer is...not an answer. They didn't think about it? They don't have a strategy? Wow, I would have never guessed. "An enhancement to the web experience." I think that may be overstating.

He does say that he doesn't think that 2D web content is going away. Well, that's finally something I can buy. He also doesn't think there will be a total 3D web experience. Thinks there will be much more 3D integration, 2D working with 3D content.

Usability, and target audience question. He says they are still in Beta stage? Really? He says the audience are more hardcore gamers now. Really? Hmmm. But he says that it was designed to target the general population.

Lowering the barrier to entry? Get rid of bugs, simple, minimal log in process. I just tried to log in from my Mac. Oh, wait. I can't use Lively from my Mac? Well, that's a barrier to entry.

User generated content question. He says they are opening up Lively api. And they are going to allow for user-generated content. They are looking for users to start developing plug ins and applications. I'm guessing that they are looking at Facebook and figuring out how to move in the same direction.

Google is not interested in virtual dollars. Well, I bet they are interested in actual dollars. So how are they going to monetize this? And they are allowing for user to user transactions. A la Second Life? Recognize a need for an economy model.

So, how are things going? Finally, the question. So, they exceeded their goals (user downloads) and emphasize its still in Beta. I don't believe in Betas anymore if its open to the public.

What role will Google play in the online world space? His answers are funny. The same role they've been playing?

Oh, good, time for audience Q & A!

Timeline to go from 3D chat room to having manifested across the web? Timeline for opening api for Google gadgets is soon. Opening up code is longer term.

Plan for supporting Lively on mobile devices? He doesn't know.

Plug in for Chrome? He mentions that it doesn't even work on Macs yet. Right. Very soon in the Beta, it will work across multiple platforms, including Chrome.

Talking about the crazy amount of pre-production time. They used a lot of outside vendors. Overseas vendors. Will be allowing user-generated content to be integrated in the space.

Another question on monetization. General philosophy that they aren't interested in microtransaction money.

Voice integration? "That sounds great"

Are you going to approve content for creative direction? No, the good will rise to the top.

Appropriate content and standards? Similar to YouTube.

Spectrum shift from Google generated content to user generated? He thinks Google will stay involved, but will shift to users.

Acceptance outside the US? Anecdotal evidence is that about half of users are outside the US.

Going forward, what are the biggest challenges? He thinks the core experience is there. Refining some things, based on user needs. He thinks it will be a slow build.

Available for small business? You can be certified as a developer, builder. Doesn't sound like there are virtual storefronts yet...

Best argument why this won't be like Google video, where a passionate start up won't do a better job? He thinks it looks damn good. And he thinks its a really good question.

Why is the visual style a competitive edge? Great functionality with poor quality graphics are not typically adopted.

When you were creating the creative direction, who was the target audience? The social app users. He doesn't think people want to replicate themselves.

Incorporation of storylines? Yes they want a story, but they want the stories to be yours.

Branded content in Lively? he doesn't know--Gap jeans in Lively? Personally, he thinks its stupid. LOL. Finally, a really good response. Almost at the end of the session, and he finally says something real.

In general, where do you think we'll see online worlds go? They want to be a tool where users create their own content. So, everyone will be building their own virtual worlds, developing 3D spaces. University and school adoptions.

When is actual launch? No answer...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

On the road again

Out in LA two weeks ago for Virtual Worlds LA 2008, then this past week preparing for a presentation on our Virtual Territory for application at a National Sales Meeting and 2009 curriculum delivery. The presentation was Friday afternoon. I had one day home, and today, off to Austin for the Game Developers Conference. I think this is going to be a completely different scene than LA--besides the fact that its Austin, the gaming industry has obviously had some history, much more so than virtual worlds. The pool of knowledge and experience should be much deeper.

I miss being home, I miss my family. I am anxious to hear news of the results of our presentation on Friday. Yet, I'm off to schmooze and learn more about the gaming industry. I'll be happy to return back to normal on Thursday. Of course, we have another sales meeting on Friday!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Virtual worlds, all things considered

Luckily for me, I have a lot of friends who send me research and stories about the use of virtual worlds, some in particular for learning, since my nose has been to the grindstone building one of my own.

Its only fair that I share the wealth and pass along some of the stories I've found most interesting lately (although they've been published over the last few takes me awhile to get caught up).

There's already been a bit of research done on using virtual world technology for medical education, surgical training, etc., but this article talks about the use of virtual worlds for patient education. Given the opportunity to connect with other patients and maintain a certain level of anonymity, I would surmise that very soon, virtual worlds will be one of the most interesting ways that patients receive disease and therapeutic information, in addition to building strong support communities.

MSN recently featured this story about body consciousness and avatars. I spent a lot of time researching and thinking about avatars, especially as the development of our virtual world identities evolve and avatars are our primary means of engagement with others in-world. I still believe avatars are one of the keys to the success of virtual worlds; understanding the psychology of how we identify ourselves in digital medium will reveal important data on how to increase participation and maintain user engagement.

What if the future isn't really virtual, just augmented? Augmented reality has been much discussed recently; check out this game to see how merging the real and digital can make for some extremely innovative ways of interacting with others, and the world. I particularly like the idea of augmented reality in allowing for competition and game play. Maybe augmented reality experiences will be the catalyst to bring virtual worlds more mainstream?

Finally, love this talk by Jane McGonigal. If you don't have time to check it out, I want to draw particular attention to the four points that she identifies as keys to engagement:

1. satisfying work to do
2. the experience of being good at something
3. time spent with people we like
4. the chance to be part of something bigger

She makes note of how World of Warcraft addresses these points--interesting that no matter what world you're in, these are probably the things that matter most to keep you engaged.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Where the money is...

Sometimes I like to know that other people think that there's a possibility of my crazy ideas making money. Yes, I think virtual worlds are still in their infancy. But a change is a comin' people. Follow the dollars...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Conference sessions

I'll blog more about the Virtual Worlds Conference in LA that I'm attending this week, but I have to take a moment to write about presenting a session at a conference.

There are only two reasons people attend conferences: networking and learning. If your session doesn't address either of these, don't waste my time. If the goal of a session is networking, give the group a topic, make sure people have an opportunity to talk, and conclude with groups reporting back.

If your goal is to teach something, take a few minutes to consider how people learn. Don't talk at me for an hour. There are VERY few people who are so interesting that I want to sit and listen to them talk for more than 15 minutes.

Panels rarely work and are a cop out for putting together an actual presentation. If you put competitive companies on a panel, it will be a pissing match. That's not fun to watch, and you don't learn anything by watching people posture. Only once in a while do panels work, and those have interesting topics, prepared questions, and panelists that are qualified to answer. Its a rare occasion that you can pull off all three.