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 employees...in 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 months...it 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.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Big? No, huge

I'm leaving today to attend Virtual Worlds LA 2008. I am excited, because unlike when I attended VW NYC in April, I actually know a little something about virtual worlds. I have questions and I'm pretty sure I'll be able to get some answers. I'm looking forward to seeing what other people are doing.

In April, it was just me. This time, five Tandemites are attending. In April, I had just a glimmer of what we might do with virtual worlds. Now we have a demo of our first product, and a verbal commitment on our first sale of that product.

In April I thought that Tandem could really become big. Now I know we'll be huge.

And no one sees us coming...