Category “Videos”

Reflecting On Nelson Mandela’s Life, His Impact On South Africa & The World

Friday, 6 December, 2013

I write today with great sadness after learning about the passing of Nelson Mandela this week. You see, I have a long history with South Africa and every time she graced me with another memory, I was forever changed. Her imprint wasn't the kind of imprint other country destinations leave; it was if South Africa's spirit spoke to me each and every time, as if she had to teach me something larger than myself...a bit like Mandela did over the course of his lifetime...


As I reflect on Mandela's impact and his important life work, I began thinking of all the talks I have heard him give including a dramatic one in person in the 1990s, and zeroed in my own South African story, one which he influenced by his actions, his courage, his resilience and his solitude. He changed how I absorbed not just culture, politics and history, but how I viewed humanity and the world.

My story goes deep. Endure me on an important life journey for a moment, starting in a pre-Mandela world.

Apartheid was still very much in place when I lived in South Africa as a foreign exchange student in 1984, two years before the country's declared State-of-Emergency.  

Being white, I was placed with a well-off English speaking white family in a ritzy Johannesburg suburb and sent to a prestigious white school. In this bubbled existence, I was meant to be protected from the waging cultural war that was brewing under the surface. We wore uniforms and lived colonial lives, with two tea breaks a day at school, private tennis lessons and trips to the stables for horseback riding. And, it was oh so very proper. Girls hung out with girls, and boys hung out with boys even at co-ed schools.

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I also studied at a white Afrikaans school just outside Johannesburg. Boys played sports and marched -- remember that military service was mandatory for South Africans - my boyfriend at the time served in Namibia for two years.

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Below one of my teachers from Hyde Park High School instructs a black gardener who serviced the grounds during a 'tea' break.

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Meanwhile, another world existed outside Johannesburg's wealthy white suburbs. While we played crochet, ate strawberries and cream, and sipped champagne by the pool, black South Africans lived in their own neighborhoods, a far cry from the world I had begun to know.  Imagine a world where life existed for your entire family in one room with nothing but a tin roof or a leaky plastic covering to protect you from the rain. 

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Violence was rampant and deaths occured daily in townships between black communities (many westerners don't realize that fighting happened not just between whites and blacks at the time but between local tribes who disagreed). Important movies like Cry Freedom & A Dry White Season made the world aware of the social injustice, all driven from the top.

Unfathomable stories came into the international spotlight, unveiling atrocious crimes of white police beating and killing black prisoners, many of whom didn't deserve to be arrested in the first place. Buried in a corrupt system under the guise of Apartheid, some whites turned a blind eye, while others lived in their own colonial bubble, oblivious of what was happening behind the scenes. Then, there were a few brave white souls who risked their lives to bring these heart wrenching stories to the western media and fought hard and long for equality and a united country, not one divided by color.

Outside the cities, black South Africans lived in straw huts in the rural countryside. The below shots were taken in the northern Transvaal and Swaziland in 1984.

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My naivity at the time still dumbfounds me. While I may have been a smarter than average teenager, the siloed education I received in small town America limited my awareness of global politics and injustice. While it's not rocket science to understand the concept of a segregated country by color (crikey, we had our own until the 1960s), but since I had never 'lived it,' I wasn't prepared for what I witnessed. This lack of preparedness and awareness resulted in me living in a world blinded by sugar-coated glasses for the first few months. During that time, I avoided probing too deep when answers to my questions remained unanswered or even worse, were undigestable.

I used to ask questions that perhaps a ten year old might ask, such as "why does our maid live in a shack behind our house? Why can't "they" sit with us at the same table? Why can't they go into the restaurant with us? The answers of course never made any sense, nor did the sneers I received from my boss at a Sandton restaurant where I was hostess.

I'd talk to the "black" boys who cleared away the dishes and the dishwasher crew and whenever I did, I was told not to and in hindsight, they too seemed confused by communication. There were so many times I was told "not to" during my first year in South Africa, that it started to numb my understanding of what was at play on a large and deeply turbulent scale. "Not to engage with, not to play with, not to dance with, not to talk to, not to buy things for, not to give a hug to..." The list went on. And yet, my true understanding of what was happening in the early months of living there was closer to a young child's understanding, not a mature one.

I experienced different behavior when I lived with a white family on a rural farm in the Northern Transvaal, not far from the Zimbabwean border. Below, I am cooking on the grill with the oldest brother of my host family, who was one of the best hunters I had ever encountered - I once saw him kill a snake which came flying out of a tree into our window early in the morning in a nano-second. He seemed to have a unique relationship with their servants in a way I had not yet witnessed in the country's urban areas, something I would later learn would add to the puzzle of why South Africa's black and white history is so much more complex than meets the eye. No history book or novel can prepare you for the intricacies of its long and painful racial struggle.

He used to woo me with his knowledge of Zulu, Xhosa and something they referred to as Fanagalo, a pidgin (simplified language) based primarily on Zulu, with English and a little Afrikaans thrown in. It was often spoken in northern South Africa and in more rural areas, between white farmers and their black servants and staff.

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In those days, people still referred to Zimbabwe as Rhodesia and many had getaways up there, so much so that we used to head over the border to waterski on Lake Kyle on weekends. (you know you're not in Kansas anymore when they tell you about the risks of crocodiles, so be sure never to fall). In Zim or Rhodie depending on who you talked to, the relationship between blacks and whites seemed milder, less hostile, less fragile and less haunting. There are a host of reasons for this but it wasn't until I crossed that border several times with my ex-husband in the 1990s did I feel the intensity of the tension the moment we were back on South African soil.

While South African tourists may most remember sipping wine on some of Stellenbosch's best vineyards or their visit to Kruger National Park, there's a whole other side to South Africa, a world where white and black South Africans worked together, tended the land, hunted and killed to eat.

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Below, I am with one of my host families in the northern Transvaal after a day out in the bush, which almost always meant in those days, bringing an impala or kudo home for dinner.

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I eventually learned who Mandela was, but it was only after I ventured beyond my rich white suburbs and started conversations with people who I sensed felt uncomfortable with my questions, as if I were a private investigator probing rather than an everyday civilian having a healthy dialogue. It was at this time I met some white radicals (or at least that's what some people called them) at the Wits University campus, one of South Africa's most famous universities. It was then that I discovered how deep race issues were and how close to a very dangerous edge the country was living. Little did I know how much violence was brewing and how close we were to a transformation that would not just change South Africa forever, but the world.

What would be deemed as a curious and socially active student in a free democratic country was classified as radical and dangerous in a 1970s and 1980s South Africa world. That year, I fell in love with musician Johnny Clegg and even had an opportunity to meet him and shoot one of their concerts from the edge of their stage. His music more than moved me, it transformed me from an innocent and ignorant bystander of life to a curious and caring one. If I wanted a life full of purpose and passion, I knew my life could never be one where I'd stand on the sidelines observing life, but one which involved diving with both feet even if it was sure to be a painful dive.

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Above, Johnny Clegg in rare form, his passionate music echoing into a winter night on the grounds of Wits University. While he wasn't the only musician to write about this volatile time, he was a revolutionary at heart who led the way on his home soil. Steven Van Zandt's "Sun City," a song that protested the South African policy of apartheid was also instrumental as was the follow on support by such musical greats as Bruce Springsteen, Run DMC, Bonnie Raitt, Miles Davis, George Clinton, Jackson Browne and dozens more. Let's also not forget Paul Simon's "Graceland," which came out in 1986 and featured Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Their music brought South Africa's pain into our hearts and understanding in the west even if we could never begin to understand day-to-day life for people living under an Apartheid regime.

Below, locals just outside the Transkei are about to load a pick up truck with chickens, okra, tomatos and bananas.

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Below, children sing at an all black school in a rural area.

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To say that my experience living in the 1980s and 1990s in South Africa was diverse is an understatement. From rural farms to living with Afrikaans families in cities and towns, and then wealthy English families in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, to breathing in the land and its wildlife on various national parks and nature reserves, I felt the pulse of a country in pain.

While today Soweto is freely traveled to and even houses a Holiday Inn, back then, it was off limits to whites and considered incredibly dangerous. That didn't stop me however and I can recall the experience as if it were yesterday. People ask me all the time: weren't you afraid?

The truth is, no I wasn't afraid. The truth is...I was greeted with warmth and generosity despite the fact that there was mass hatred of whites and an extreme number of violent incidents at the time. I realize that things could have gone south and a different set of encounters could have resulted in my not being alive to tell the story today. The same could be said for venturing into certain parts of Harlem and Detroit during their most volatile times. And yet, back then, talking to locals felt urgent somehow, even though I didn't have a clue what to do with their stories.

A few years later when I was studying and living in London, a mere stone's throw from Trafalgar Square, the home of daily South Africa protests, it felt like the most natural thing in the world to join the crowd. Times were complicated and the circles I traveled in were diverse.

Below, I was out on a bush walk with an American missionary who was stationed in southern Africa for many years. Everyone and their brother seemed to be involved in stirring up a pot, whether it was religious, political or social.

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In 1990, I returned to South Africa to live, this time with my South African ex-husband. Not much had visibly changed in every day life, except there was a shift in sentiment and more importantly, laws. It was the year the then President Frederik Willem de Klerk began negotiations to end Apartheid and the official abolishing of Apartheid occurred with repeal of the last of the remaining Apartheid laws.

The result would be the country's first multi-racial democratic elections in 1994, which as we all know, was won by the African National Congress under Nelson Mandela. To this day, the vestiges of Apartheid still shape South African politics and society.

That year, we drove up and down the country a few times, and eventually made our way north to Malawi in an old fashioned boxed van manufacturered sometime a few decades earlier. Economically, nothing had yet changed for black South Africans but Mandela had become a household name. 

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When we weren't working in Johannesburg in the hospitality industry, we were on the road and that meant living in our van or pitching a tent when the mosquitos weren't rampant. We picked up hitchhikers along the way and made friends from around the world over the course of nearly two years.  


Life couldn't be more free; no one told us who we could talk to and who we couldn't, or where we had to be or when. Below, we stopped the van along side a cliff somewhere on the Cape's Garden Route and here, we made dinner, opened a bottle of South Africa Shiraz and toasted to a new world.

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If we wanted to go into a rural area or township and have a conversation, we could and we did. To say this was widely accepted just because the Apartheid veil had been legally lifted is far from a reality. 


Considered as dangerous as it was in the 1970s? Absolutely. If you recall, violence soared before it leveled off and there was a tremendous amount of mistrust and cultural 'sorting' in Mandela's early days. Also remember that there were a lot of disgruntled white South Africans (in and out of the National Party -- which later became known as the New National Party) by De Klerk's radical political move.

It was a different vibe in rural areas however, particularly the bush. Life was much more simple and chatting about life around the fire at night was easy. Here, I sensed less anger and their personalities were more fluid. It doesn't mean that white hatred didn't exist but the energy was more relaxed and trusting. Below, we drink coffee late at night listening to hyaenas in the distance, an experience which always felt spiritual to me.


Below, a shot of a family we picked up in our van in 1990, who wasn't sure (at first) whether to trust us or not. Behind them, you can see our mosquito net which we slept under every night.

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Below, drummers go wild in Hillbrow just outside Johannesburg's center.


In the early nineties, life was still very much segregated in the cities and the towns.

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Young white South Africans (as my ex-husband, his brother and wife and our friends were) shifted their attitudes and wanted to make amends somehow. It wasn't uncommon to hear things like "we have a black friend now," or "we just did X with Z," as if to make a point that they were progressive in their thinking and not white South African racists. It wasn't their fault; after all, the country had conditioned them from childhood, a white racist government who created white racist schools and taught History the colonial way, which was from a very different textbook than the one I used when I taught in a Kenyan school a few years later.

Most of their attempts at doing the right thing, at least in our circles, came from a pure place. Those with candy colored glasses who were so brainwashed under the old regime would either take decades of reconditioning to truly understand the atrocities of the Apartheid system or never change their mind.

Yet, during that time, things were vibrant, wild and new. It was a time when the unexpected happened and the country had a chance to start over.

Around that time, I was asked to do publicity for a black musician and his white wife who needed help opening a white & black nightclub in Johannesburg, a groundbreaking and bold move for the time. They weren't interested in traditional communications and media strategies, nor exposure from CNN. For them, it was all about grassroots efforts, from educating locals to alleviating safety concerns across three generations of whites whose lives were about to change in ways they never imagined.

Meanwhile, Mandela's respect was growing with diverse supporters and new voices (both black and white) were amplifying.

There were times we'd be at a braai (equivalent of a western barbecue except they'd often grill game) in someone's backyard, see smoke bombs going off in Soweto a mile or so down the road and suddenly be brought back to reality. Sirens would follow and we knew a death had happened or two...and yet we were untouched behind our walled gardens in some white suburb with guards by the fence.

Life could also be melancholy and surreal at times. People were struggling with all the changes, many in disbelief, even those who felt it was positive for the country and had fought for decades to see an integrated South Africa.

Other times, the intensity of it all was too much. Everyone spoke of politics and violence all the time and it became all consuming. Female friends in their early twenties were carrying hand guns in their purses to be ready for attacks, whether it was walking into a fast food joint to order a burger or get petrol in their car.

While we never carried a gun, we took the rotor out of our van every time we parked it since so many vehicles were being stolen, sometimes at gun point. We often didn't stop at red lights because that's where so many hold-ups happened and white South Africans were losing not just their cars, but often their lives. Break-ins became more commonplace and would sometimes result in a death not just a theft. It became a way of life and people assimilated into a new but more violent South Africa.

We eventually left the city and headed south to Cape Town where things were less unpredictable. The reason for this lies in the fact that Cape Town had always been more integrated than the north and as a result, the environment was milder. We stopped at red lights again and started to breathe a calmer air. We also brought sandwiches and wine out to the ocean's edge and sat on the rocks at sunset, talking about politics, democracy and war, both of us so aware how different the dialogue would be had we been back in the states sharing food with friends on the Boston coast instead.

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Through all of this, I wrote. For so many reading this, it's hard to imagine a time before computers, but then, I didn't have one, nor did anyone I know. It was a world without cell phones, iPads, iPods and laptops. Texting was inconceivable and if you wanted to leave a message for a colleague you were planning to meet in Tanzania in two week's time, you'd send him a note through a PO Box or leave a handwritten message on an old fashioned pin-up board in a known hotel travelers knew about.

And so, with so much uncertainty and violence in the air, I wrote. And, I wrote. And, I wrote. I filled a suitcase with notebooks.

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I wrote everywhere and anywhere I could and didn't need a power chord or an Internet connection to do so.

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My brother-in-law at the time loaned me a typewriter so I could process my thoughts faster since there were times my head was spinning out of control. Late at night, my mind whirled and swirled trying to make sense of the growing violence and political changes. History was in motion as Mandela was about to take the reigns.

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My favorite place to write was under the stars by moonlight. There's nothing like an African made me feel closer to the earth than anywhere else I had ever spent time or lived. When you consider that southern Africa is where man began, it makes sense. I was lost in time on more than one occasion under an African sky, an experience that is now but a mere memory, but one I'd gladly relive.


After we left South Africa and returned to live in Boston, the country was never far from our reach. While we didn't have Facebook, we had friend's letters, phone calls, access to the BBC and Johannesburg newspapers that my then mother-in-law used to send us. We continued to listen to South African music, drank rooiboss tea, received packages of biltong and attended South African get togethers in New York and Boston every year. We couldn't let "her" go. She had grabbed ahold of us and made us forever hers.

We watched Mandela's progress from afar, listened to his speeches and routed him on. It wasn't until 18 years later in 2008 that I returned. A trip that was slated for three weeks turned into several months, which included an extensive drive up and down the country and along the mystical and magical Garden Route in the south.

Returning to Soweto was nothing short of surreal for me. Blacks and whites shopped in the same mall and sipped coffee at the same cafe. Below is a shot I took while relaxing against a rock on a sunny afternoon.

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Prophet gave us a historical account of activities; the stories felt so far removed from the South Africa I had experienced so many moons ago...pre-Mandela.

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Two brothers play together in a nearby park, both of them with smiles on their faces.

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In the south, in a small village on the coast called Arniston-by-the-Sea, more seemingly happy children found me and my camera and couldn't wait to pose. 

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I was blown away by the positive attitude of the children, all of whom are removed by a generation from the inequality their parents and grandparents faced. They gave me a sense of hope and joy, so much so that I created a photo book on this hope. Have a look at the most precious images of what hope looks like in my book I call Post Apartheid Kids.

All this we have Nelson Mandela to thank. As CNN so eloquently put it, "word of Nelson Mandela's death spread quickly across the United States, bringing with it a mix of reverence and grief for a man who was born in South Africa but in the end belonged to the world."

His activism is a pure example of how to make a horrible wrong right. The South Africa I experienced in the 1980s and 1990s, while is full of beautiful memories and encounters with people who did make a positive difference, is an uglier South Africa than the one Mandela created over the course of his presidency.

While for many Europeans and Americans, the death of Mandela may feel akin to losing one of their own, it goes much deeper for me. Having gone to high school in South Africa, having been exposed to the rawest form of racism I had yet to experience in South Africa, having married a South African and having been transformed by its activists, its musicians, its professors, its authors and my friends, all led to a deep connection to the country, as if the country had become my own.

South Africa is imprinted not just in my memory but she is in my blood. Mandela is part of that imprint. Mandela made more than an impact on South Africa - his resilience and spirit has taught us all around the world what it means to be human and what it takes to step up to the plate and embrace humanity. I bow down and honor his life and am grateful for how he has touched me and the world at large.

May God grant you the peace and serenity you so deserve Nelson Mandela. As Obama so beautifully said in his speech, "He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages."

For a beautifully reflective and heartwarming end to this tribute, listen to this heartfelt song by Johnny Clegg performed in 1999 with Nelson Mandela on stage:

Note: For those who are interested in a deeper dive into South African history, culture and tribal influences across centuries, please read one of my favorite authors Andre Brink, who I still dream of meeting over a glass of Shiraz one day. He has written countless novels and memoires, all of which I have read, however my favorites include Looking On Darkness, The Other Side of Silence, Rumors of Rain, An Intant in the Wind and A Chain of Voices. Let's just say I have read this list of novels more than once.

Photo credits: Top image of Mandela from UK Telegraph. All other images Renee Blodgett.

Start-Up Iceland Event Draws Iceland’s President & Attracts American Thought Leaders

Thursday, 13 June, 2013

Hackathons are fairly common in Silicon Valley and while they're starting to pop up in pockets around the world, Iceland may not be a place that immediately comes to mind when you think of start-up geek fests.

Reykavik, Iceland's largest city and home to two thirds of its 320,000 people, recently held a Hackathon in conjunction with Start-Up Iceland, an event committed to helping local entrepreneurs build a thriving start-up ecosystem in the country.


Started by serial entrepreneur, angel investor and Greenqloud CEO Bala Kamallakharan in 2012, Start-Up Iceland has not only grown in size in just one year, but attracted top notch angel investors from the states, as well as European and American entrepreneurs and thought leaders.

TechCrunch's John Biggs presented, as did American venture capitalists Brad Burnham from Union Square Ventures and Foundry Group's Ryan McTyre and Jason Mendelson. To top that list, Iceland’s US Ambassador Luis E. Arreaga and the country's President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson thought the event was important enough to show up to address the more than 300 attendees at the beautifully designed conference center HARPA in the city center.

In true start-up conference style, the event kicked off with an UnConference led by Joshua Kaufmann and a Hackathon, held at the University of Reykjavik, where geeks gathered together to cook up some innovative ideas.


The Hackathon was free and open to students, hobbyists, professionals and frankly anyone who likes to hack on cool code and be creative. 


Startup Iceland Hackathon participants were asked to create and present hacks around the central idea that the world is undergoing drastic cultural, climate and economic shifts that impact global business.

As the founding organizers mission suggests: "Strengths lie not within avoiding catastrophe but in planning and mitigating problems before they arise. We can accomplish this by understanding the needs of the business community, anticipating the hurdles and creating proactive solutions." Well said.


Above, locals present their ideas to attendees and a panel of judges and below, Seattle Angel Conference's John Sechrest moderated a session.


Below the Hackathon finalists pose with American thought leaders and entrepreneurs.



Winners and finalists receive acknowledgement on stage.



The winner of the Hackathon was GreenQloud Automated Server Balancer, which is a collection of scripts that manage and change attributes to a GreenQloud hosted server depending on the load.

Simply put, when a user's server is idle, only one system is running. Once the load gets to a specific point, a new system is activated, which allows for consistant performance across the board without wasting so much power. Lower Power usage, lower wasted dosh.

While green energy may be enviromentally friendly, it's not unlimited, so their notion is that you should only use what you need. With their approach, you can efficiently waste the least amount of power with enough performance to do what you need.The team was awarded $1,000.   

Below, Bala does a fireside chat style interview with Ryan and Jason from Foundry Group.


The UnConference presented a host of great ideas, which were far more varied than what you'd find in technology hubs in the United States, largely because many of the needs and problems that locals need to solve on a Nordic Island are unique.


Some of the ideas included angel investing in Icelandic start-ups, the role of big companies in the start-up ecosystem, women's role as investors, entrepreneurs and consumers, cultural barriers between those who have money and those who don't, the value of mentoring, bootstrapping, what can be gained from a Pan-Nordic collaboration, growing Icelandic tourism through better customer service, attracting talent to Iceland and the importance of having a start-up friendly government policy.

Kudos to the Start-Up Iceland team and everyone behind the scenes who made everything happen, from the Hackathon and UnConference, to the more formal Start-Up Event at HARPA, which included a VIP dinner and the President's speech.



I first heard Iceland's President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson speak at PopTech, an annual event in Maine I've had the pleasure of attending and being involved in over the years. His presentation style is very warm and inviting and once again, he brought that quality to the stage. Below he gives a touching and inspiring talk to attendees.


The video of his talk below.


My takeaway went beyond the fact that Iceland now has a thriving and growing start-up community as demonstrated by Start-Up Iceland and the level of support for the event. Icelanders have resilience and dedication to making things work regardless of what is thrown their way.

Consider what the country went through in 2008 during their financial crisis and how as a nation, they came out the other side as committed and united, able to move forward with a team and “can-do” attitude, something every startup needs to not just survive but thrive.

The fact that Iceland is a small country can be used to their advantage. Icelanders help each other out, share and cross pollinate ideas and don't give up easily. Smaller communities in the U.S., such as Boulder and Portland also implement more of a sharing and caring mentality, something Silicon Valley could use a bit more of. As Foundry Group’s Jason Mendelson commented on a panel, “in Silicon Valley, it’s more like every man out for himself.” 

We have a lot to learn from Icelanders and I felt fortunate to meet some of the early entrepreneurs who are helping to make Iceland grow and thrive as a global player in the entrepreneurial world.

Photo Credits: Distant shot of UnConference & Close Up of Coders at Hackathon from Start-Up Iceland Facebook page, all other photos Renee Blodgett.

Lithuanian Start-Up Demos Cool GooGPS Travel App on Tablet PC

Thursday, 2 May, 2013

I discovered (and used) an interesting new GPS app from a Lithuanian company when I was in Vilnius Lithuania recently.

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They call it GooGPS, and the model is data for travel and tourism for visitors. Imagine a Samsung like tablet PC that is loaded with all the best of a city - main attractions, festivals, events, museums, churches, restaurants and hotels, that is light enough to hang around your neck while you meander through a new city.

Then, imagine along side of that data, you have access to all your social apps like Foursquare, Twitter and Instagram, a video camera for easy capturing and a browser to check email....all on a device that is connected 24/7 and limited for E10 a day.

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UAB is a global pioneer that is successfully developing a new business model – rent of tablet PCs for travelers. These guys have created a set of programs called “interactive travel guide” that works with a modified Android operational system.

In the system which is within a portable 7-inch tablet, you have 3D navigational maps, connected to their controlled interactive guide with places of interest, routes and audio content.

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It is currently available for visitors to Lithuania and Latvia with plans to expand to other regions in the future. 

I tested it out for the day, which included site seeing in Vilnius, the main city and the outskirts. The only glitch I had was limited battery life, so the tablet died half way through my day but when it was up and running, it worked like a charm and was fun to use. Below is a video of me chatting to the product manager.

The Connected Things Discussion at London’s WebSummit

Sunday, 3 March, 2013

Techcrunch's Mike Butcher interviews Alex Hawkinson of Smart Things and Fabrice Boutain of HAPILABS in an interactive chat on the Web Summit stage in London last week.


Below is a video of their conversation, which includes demos.


LeWeb’s The Internet of Things: From Lightbulbs & Robots to Augmented Reality Apps & Air Quality

Friday, 14 December, 2012

Parrot Plane (11)LeWeb Paris continues to grow year after year, with this year reaching over 3,500 attendees. 

From a couple of hundred attendees in the first year, they had 5,000 attendees this past year alone for both their London and Paris events, London being a test, something that they plan to continue doing in the years ahead.

They attract big players like Orange, Microsoft and others and mid-tier players known in Europe and beyond, like Parrot, as well as tons of start-ups eager secure funding and entrepreneurs looking for the next big thing. It's also an incredible place to "schmooze" on the floor at the event itself as well as the umpteen after parties and events they hold in the evenings throughout the center of Paris.

I returned to San Francisco from an exhausting trip of meetings and pow-wows to hear that LeWeb was acquired by Reed MIDEM, one of the leading events organizers in the world. How that changes the format of LeWeb moving forward is yet to be seen, but more budget and marketing should 'in theory' lead to more "high-touch" events, better food and higher profile speakers. That said, it could also drive ticket prices up.

Acquisition aside, Loic and Geraldine LeMeur managed to pull off yet another fabulous event, from A-list speakers to entertainment and networking.

So, who showed up there and unveiled their latest?

Parrot's CEO Henri Seydoux, who I had an opportunity to meet several years ago when they hosted the TravelingGeeks trip I organized to Paris, was as charming as ever on the LeWeb stage in an interview with Loic LeMeur.

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Within LeWeb's theme of the "Internet of Things," he made what could have been a 'faux pas' by saying that you can't reference women as things or you'll be in trouble for a long time. It didn't turn into a faux pas though at least from what I could tell, since everyone laughed -- including women. I happen to like their products and team. As an aside, rumor has it that his actress daughter played a role in the latest James Bond film. Ahh yes, the things you learn at LeWeb.

Chris Shipley ran the start-up event; the finalists were: Be-Bound, Qunb and Recommend.

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Be-Bound gives you access to the Internet without wifi, aka stay connected to the web without the Web.

A stat for the taking: 3G/WIFI = 14% and 2G = 86%. These guys use the SMS layer. Their business model is using prepaid credits called B-Miles. For example, 3 Euros = 35 Be-Miles, 10E = 200 Be-Miles and so on. They'll also use advertising and couponing to drive revenue.

Be-Bound (2)

Their objective is to reach 3.2% of this business over the next 3 years.  They said on stage, “our business is cash generating. We hope to achieve cash-even in three years.”

Qunb's platform is all about quantitative data. The idea is you can now visualize and broadcast your own data! How it works: their platform understands your data semantically so your data becomes compatible with other data so they can make sense of each other. They’re going after large corporations who are willing to understand their data and compare it so it makes sense in a meaningful way. Currently, their product is featured on the SAP marketplace.

The last finalist was Recommend, which is a platform that gives you recommendations from people you trust. There seems to be a lot of 'recommendation engines' out there, so I thought this one had the least potential from running a sustainable business in the long run vis a vis the others.

Their pitch is quality not quantity: recommendations from friends only in your network. (friends + friends of friends). They say they will succeed because it’s viral and sticky, sticky because it’s recommendations for every day things and apparently there's also notifications for extra 'value.'

Then, Team Blacksheep gave a demo - well sort of. A flying plane was let loose in the LeWeb audience. The TBS DISCOVERY frame is an upgrade for all Flamewheel F450 frames, using F450 arms and a custom TBS top and bottom plate including power distribution board. It's cool to watch and for geeks who are interested in this, apparently easy to build.

Parrot Plane (1)

I thought that Netatmo's concept was interesting - they're offering a personal weather station for the iPod and iPad, where you can monitor weather and air quality. Says the team, "we spend 80 percent inside - our lifestyle is indoor and we have to think about indoor air quality as well as outdoor air quality." They have created a weather station to monitor inside and outdoor environments and then they send this data to the cloud.

The team showed real time data across a map of Paris where we could see weather patterns across different sections of the city. They take measurements of environment and are using crowdsourcing to bring this data to people in a way that is usable and "useful."

Metatmo (1)

They think that real estate prices will rely on data like this and can impact prices and other things. The more co2 you have, the more dense your space is, which decreases the quality of your air.

Then, MG Siegler interviewed Instagram's Kevin Systrom, who's always at his polished best. I saw him a few months back in a similar "question exchange" with Sarah Lacy at one of her PandoDaily events in San Francisco.

Polished aside and interesting app or not, I still just can't get over or accept that their app could have been worth $730 million when the Facebook acquisition 'completed' back in September or ever could be. And, I'm a serious photography geek and still don't 'get it.'

Kevin from Instagram (3)

Stephanie Hospital and team at Orange hosted a power girls networking bash one afternoon, which I ironically went to with Yossi Vardi, most definitely not a woman.

While it was indeed mostly women, a few male stragglers were there including French photographer Olivier Ezratty who is working on a photo exhibition of powerful women in the digital age. I'll share the latest as his work progresses. He also does a wonderful round-up of LeWeb every year, so check out his coverage here.

Orange Womens Event LeWeb12 (6)

Speaking of Yossi, he gave a talk on things start-ups need to think about and tips of the trade. He says, "Pivoting is important because of the feedback you receive along the way, however doing more than 2 pivots is bad."

Additionally, he encouraged young entrepreneurs to network more often, always look for ways to provide value, and to try to find a funder from a mutual contact (someone you trust and someone the funder is likely to trust). He says of investors, "they need assurances and recommendations from people they trust." His main source of deal flow is through friends with credibility. 

Yossi-Vardi (5)

On exits, he says there's a big debate in Israel at the moment about whether early exits are good. Pros and cons, he notes. Having an early exit leaves a lot of value on the table but if you want a bigger exit, obviously increase the risk because it will take more time.

I also ran into Stephanie Czerny who is one force behind the DLD Conference, held every year in Munich Germany. If you haven't been, you MUST - I keep meaning to return it was so good, if only January didn't present so many deadlines. I love these guys! Not only is the content and networking top notch, but their hearts are in the right place -- they're doing great things for the industry and world.

In the main room, we then moved into physical objects, you know, real tangible products you can feel. The team from Sphero gave a demo on stage of their robotic ball, which has mechanics and two way wireless communication.

Sphero (1)

Sphero (4)

They're using 6 axis IMu (essentially a navigation system) so they know where Sphero is going. Think of it as a robotics gaming system.

They said on stage, "We think there's a continuum where games live inside augmented reality and we're trying to mash and bridge the virtual and the real." He adds, "a system of this nature requires strong computational power and you have to build interfaces in virtual and physical world."

Ubooly also wants to bridge this world, but for kids aged 4-9. CEO Carly Gloge was on the LeWeb stage showing a stuffed animal that comes to life when an iPhone is stuck inside it using voice recognition.

The "toy" suggests games to the kids in real time and gives feedback on their participation based on the phone’s accelerometer. Price point is cheap and perhaps one of the reasons, it seemed to receive positive feedback. Current going price is around $29.95.

Ubooly (9)

Lockitron also got quite a bit of buzz at the event and apparently others think its cool too - they've already placed some $2.2 million in pre-orders for the device.

The device is a smartphone=controlled keyless door lock. You can reserve one with a shipping date of late May 2013 for $179.  

I hung out with the HAPILABS guys who were showing off their HAPIfork, which will be unveiled at CES next month. The HAPIfork is an electronic fork that monitors your eating habits, giving you precise information about your eating schedule and alerting you with the help of indicator lights and a gentle vibration when you are eating too fast.

Below is CEO Fabrice Boutain showing off their first prototype.

Fabrice with Hapifork (1)

The other cool thing I saw was Australian-based LIFX, a revolutionary new lightbulb that takes something that we all use in our homes, and makes it smarter and more efficient. It was launched on Kickstarter, where they raised over $1.3 million.

The LIFX lightbulb is a WiFi enabled, multi-color, energy efficient LED light bulb that you control with your iPhone or Android. How cool is that? See the below video to learn more.

I had an opportunity to meet and chat with the founder of San Francisco-based ReAllocate, who is not about launching a new social media apps or anything that will connect things to the Internet or the Internet to things. 

ReAllocate is a global network of engineers, designers and entrepreneurs empowering under served communities through technology and innovation to improve quality of life. I love what they're doing!

They call themselves "ReAllocators" and they engage in digital storytelling to inspire participation, promote collaboration, and raise awareness about humanitarian causes. I hope to visit them state-side.

They supports three program areas that intertwine to create an infrastructure that supports sustainable development through education, ecosystems, equality, and economics. Learn a little bit more about what they're doing in Alaska and in Japan.

I also had fun hanging out with the UK Trade & Investment folks as well. Did I mention all the after events? It's no wonder everyone who ventures to Paris every December for LeWeb is so happily wiped out at the end of it - fois gras, French bordeaux, dark chocolate, crepes, fabulous coffee and more.

Uk trade commission and renee (1)

In traditional Loic and Geraldine style, they managed to nail a top notch act for the speaker dinner. Four girls in an act called ESCALA wowed the crowd with their violins and energy. See my write-up on them in We Blog the World's Music Section.

Escala Band Performance (19)

The Dublin guys also did a meet-up at a place called Delaville Cafe on Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle. It's a place my Paris buds didn't know about, but the ambiance was great, especially for group gatherings. They too do great things for the industry between their Founders event, Dublin Web Summit and other initiatives. And, I have to admit, like the French, I have a soft spot for the Irish and I love Dublin.

Yet another successful LeWeb, an event I look forward to every December. Loic and Geraldine know how to curate an incredibly bright group of people who are working on things that will help shape technology as we know it and as a result, life as we know it.

I love the initiatives coming out of Europe and LeWeb is the best place in Europe for that global conversation that bridges what's happening on the continent and the rest of the world!!

For hoots, check out my review on UBER's launch at LeWeb (aka in Paris) last year, my LeWeb round-up from 2010, as well as a fun post from 2006 praising the food, suggesting that American conference organizers could learn a lot from their French counterparts.

For general blog posts on Paris, check out We Blog the World's Paris page. All photo credits: Renee Blodgett.

Steven Pinker Speaks on Violence in San Francisco

Sunday, 4 November, 2012

Steven-Pinker2 (5)Steven Pinker recently spoke at the Singularity Summit in San Francisco this past October.

His topic amongst a large group of singularians, scientists, authors, thinkers, students and technologists? Violence.

He took is on a journey of the decline of violence over time as a persistent development, showing methods that showed prehistoric violence versus the modern violence of today aka life before states and life after states.

It's obvious that literacy matters for a decrease in violence since it brings reason into the conversation ruling out and winning over superstition, which is still alive in a lot of more primitive cultures today.

See my latest write-up on singularity and the future of technology based on my most recent experience at the Singularity Summit. Below is a short video excerpt from his talk.

Video and photo credit: Renee Blodgett.

Crowdfunding: A Conflict for VCs or a Path to Economic Recovery?

Friday, 2 November, 2012

Crowdfunding-photoI attended an event on crowdfunding recently. Entrepreneurs are dabbling in anything and everything "crowd" lately - from attracting vendor and engineering talent to volunteers and now, funding. I've had friends test out Kickstarter which is an interesting model if you don't need a lot of cash to jumpstart your project.

It's easier to get low-level investors on board since the commitment on the part of the 'investor' is minimal (mostly zero) and there's a reward kick back. I've contributed as little as $5-50 to a Kickstarter project and did it because it was a cool idea and just wanted to help. You'd need a helluva lot of "me's" to make it worthwhile at that level but there are others who will invest $100, $1K or $10K into the pool depending in their interest and wallet size.

Other reward based crowdfunding platforms include IndieGoGo and RocketHub, all of which are operating in the new paradigm without a lot of rules and regulations, aka pre the implementation of the 506c Act.

In a conversation on crowdfunding and alternative funding for start-ups, below are two videos (Part I and Part II) that discuss the pros and cons. Note that it IS a VERY Silicon Valley viewpoint and I haven't met a whole lotta venture capitalists from major firms who want to deal with the aftermath of early investors no longer being one or two angels but being 25 random no-names instead. There are complications AND implications.

On the panel included Gerd Goete, Siemens Venture Capital, Partner, Don Ross, HealthTech Capital, Managing Director and Founder, Sand Hill Angels, Board Director and Life Science Angels, Member Carol Sands, The Angels' Forum, Managing Member, Graham Burnette, SBV Capital Partners and Red Planet Capital, General Partner and Royse Law's Roger Royse.  

I didn't get the sense that VCs (or at least traditional VCs) would be in full support of coming in after crowdfunders, largely because of what's involved: complicated, too many heads at the table, dillution and more. Silicon Valley focused, their mantra was more around the traditional tools that make a startup successful in the long term: domain expertise, access to the right people, advice and coaching and the amount of due diligence that goes into a deal.

There's no question that access to the right people and being 'aligned' with the right people accelerate deal flow and increase the likelihood of a successful exit. If you're Kleiner backed, your chances of success go up regardless of what kind of "useless" app you have.

There are the notorious three risks, which include:

1. Technology Risk - do you have a kick-ass technology? (my words, not theirs?). Can it do what it says it will do? Will it live up to the promise?

2. Market Risk - is there a big enough market for your products?

3. Expansion Risk - this comes into play as you start to scale. Can you make a big enough return that is attractive for YOU and for them? (aka, your investors)

Their argument was that dozens or possibly hundreds of 'crowdsourced' investors can't help with 1, 2 or 3. That said, my argument would be that there are a ton of businesses who don't need to go through the traditional Silicon Valley funding route and while crowdfunding may not give them millions, they still may be able to find advisors for a point or two who can leapfrog them into the right 'tribe' so they can be successful without giving away the store to a traditional VC firm.

It is indeed an alternative and some business models and businesses will work and some won't.

Points for considration include: public solicitations and use of social media, advertising terms of offer being restricted to the fact that the issuer can only direct investors to a broker/funding portal, the additional costs invovled with disclosure and reporting, use of an intermediary, risk of fraud (goes up as this model expands), and the point that the VCs and angels on the panel referenced again and again: the high number of unsophisticated investors (which leads to fiduciary duties to all investors and as our Silicon Valley finance pals pointed out, all of "it" a concern for VCs for future fundraising rounds).

We learned a bit more about new guidelines under the proposed 506 regulations.

For example, it would allow for public advertising and general solicitation in Rule 506 offerings, provided that the issuer takes reasonable steps to verify that potential investors are accredited, and all investors are accredited (or the issuer reasonably believes they are) at the time of the sale of securities.

This results in all sorts of issues we haven't faced before under traditional models, including the nature and terms of the offering which are unique. Is it a low verus high investment? What are the terms? Who has a voice and doesn't? And of course bearing in mind that there will be more steps needed to verify 'accredited' status. 

Proposed crowdfunding regulations are slated to be released in January 2013. Videos below in Part I and 2 of the panel (roughly 20 minutes for each video - feel free to view the whole thing or catch snippets in stages to get an overview).

The event was part of iHollywood Forum, and their new brand Angel Launch, which produces dinners, venture forums, and seminars for entertainment, Web, Internet, mobile and tech ventures and startups.  

Also refer to a Forbes article on crowdfunding where they also talk about the above legislation and a bill that had full bipartisan support this year called JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) Act, which is a series of 6 bills tied together designed to make it easier for startups to gain access to capital.

Photo credit: Forbes.

TEDxFillmore: From Politics, Democracy & Jazz to Hip Hop, Eastern Europe & Burning Man

Tuesday, 9 October, 2012

Francis-Tapon at TEDxFillmore (2)Given that I'm the co-curator of a TEDx event (TEDxBerkeley), I try to support as many other TEDx Events as I attending, tweeting, and when I have the time, writing about the experience.

TEDxFillmore just had their event at Yoshi's along San Francisco's Fillmore Street this past week.

Director, Producer & Writer Thomas Simpson (left), was the emcee and the theme was "Passing the Baton." 

While this may mean different things to different people, typically, batons are passed in relay races. The intention is to hand off the batons from one person to another while attempting to cross the line. The baton in the case of this TEDx theme is meant figuratively and can mean past to the future, old to young, young to old, teacher to student, student to teacher and so on...

The event, curated by Chris and Moki Evans brought together six speakers to a stage set up on the main floor of Yoshi's Jazz Club, a renowned music venue designed by award winning architect Mori Moto that features the best of local, national and international performance artists.   

The line-up included founder of The Jazz & Democracy Project Dr. Wes Watkins, Catholic Roman Catholic Priest Dr. Victoria Rue, travel writer & adventure seeker Francis Tapon, poet and arts educator Dyanna Loeb, entrepreneur Harley Sitner and poet Zienab Abdelgany. All of them interesting, all of them engaging, all of them inspirational.

Dr Wes Watkins (3)Dr. Wes Watkins teaches music in an integrated curriculum that uses jazz as a metaphor to bring American democracy to life and enrich the study of U.S. History in elementary, middle and high school.

"Jazz is a shared democracy, a shared experience, a shared leadership," he says. Jazz musicians improvise and from that perspective, they live on the edge nearly all the time. They trust that you'll go on a journey with them and you trust that that improvisation will just work and it almost always does.

The question of "who am I" is so paramount fo jazz musicians, just as much as the interaction with the audience is. "Who am I" he says, is what the musician shows us through his or her music. "Democracy is the same way," he exerts.

"Democracy has a certain tension, created originally by our forefathers when they set up checks and balances to keep different branches of government in place. The way jazz musicians create that tension is to listen and respond." He quotes Miles Davis who had often said, "first listen and then play." His belief is that government can learn a lot from jazz masters and that understanding jazz at its core can show us the way forward in American politics today.

He pointed to a few observations:

  • New technologies in play where everything is open.
  • There's a transparent government. Bear in mind that if government transparency is only about management of mistrust, then we start to face 1984 in reverse.  
  • Any unveiling is also veiling. Read what you will from this statement, but it's profound. Just go there in the context of his thinking.

Dr Wes Watkins (1)

My favorite quote all night? In America's earliest days, Black African Americans were in the shadow of the country's "light." MUSIC reflected that light says Watkins. He added, "Embedded in the music was the very core and essence of who we are."

GOD, I loved that and it made me think of a personal guru of mine Frankie Manning (now deceased though I took more than a dozen classes from him), other jazz and dance training and experiences and over the years, and I thought how true that was/is and I'm not even part of that old Jazz era where they faced anything and everything and yet the purity of that golden age Jazz culture thrived.

Watkins never made this (aka, the above) correlation to democracy and jazz but I thought of it hours later after meeting him for the first time: Flexibility and adaptability is in the heart of every American immigrant. Jazz represents 'that.' Jazz resprents 'creation' on-the-fly and innovation in the moment, I thought, and isn't that everything this country stands for (or stood for....see my book review on Rescue America: What Made This Country Great).

Francis-Tapon at TEDx (1)

Then, Francis Tapon took us on a journey that started with a question about how do you evaluate your life on a scale of 1-10?

Through travel, he claims that you can move that number from perhaps a 5 or 6 or even an 8 to a ten. 

Okay, so it's not easy for most of us to take off six months or even one or two months (or even weeks), particularly if we have a family we're supporting in some way shape or form. His take away is "just get out there and do it - get present with nature and the environment, even if its 48 hours...."

In other words, transformative life experiences result in just taking the chance. AKA - seize the opportunity, whether it be hours, days, weeks, months or years. We all have our own thresholds and we likely all have a handful of dreams we're not turning into reality.

BTW, while it is very un TED-like to give a book a plug, I'm actually in the process of reading Tapon's latest book: The Hidden Europe (behind the scenes of Eastern Europe).

Like Francis, I spent time backpacking through Eastern Europe in the late eighties and early nineties, a volatile and pivotal time for the region. He brings us a step further and cites cultural, language and anecdotal references throughout.

While I'm not finished with the book yet, I can't wait to plough through the cultural nuances of every Eastern country one page at a time. The reading is great so far - am loving it! From history, hiking (suck it up babe, if it ain't a 1,000 mile trail then...) and cultural insights learned to language faux pas and sexual encounters, he keeps you engaged throughout. I plan to do a book review once I have finished the delicious 736 page book.  

Below is the video of his TEDx talk:





Dyanna Loeb aka Dyna*Mic is an MC, poet and arts educator who started performing with Youth Speaks in 2001.

She has shared her words and music for international audiences, at venues including the San Francisco Opera House, the Nuyorican (NYC), and Project HeartBeat Jerusalem.

What's eerily odd about listening to her is her conviction to Judiasm and yet she's kinda rapping -- poetically so -- in every number she performs.

If I didn't know she was Jewish (in advance), it would make more sense listening to her work knowing that 'she is.' (Trust me, I met her mother and meeting 'a' mom on any first encounter adds a lot of data does it not?)

After listening to several excerpts and looking at the way this woman dresses, you find yourself thinking "this doesn't add up." Stereotypes be GONE is the lesson of the day. Even when we don't have them or think we have them or think we think that we don't have them but do have them, we do. We're human after all.

Despite how talented Dyanna is (and she TRULY is btw), this juxtoposition, the one that doesn't make sense to any viewer upon first glance, is her biggest gift in my humble opinion...

Even though her poetry and songs have been featured on several releases through Youth Movement Records, where she co-founded a writing workshop for incarcerated youth in Alameda County Juvenile Hall and she has performed around the country, her work isn't nationally known...Widely so anyway.

YET, this woman has a command of poetic language in a way that tells the traditional and the untraditional stories not to mention the hopes and fears of the Jews through rap (and poetry). All of it is so deliciously unrefined while being refined, and energetic and cool at the same time.

She has toured the Pacific Northwest to perform for Amnesty International's Make Some Noise for Darfur benefit. Her first chapbook, "Birkat HaGomel: A Survivor's Blessing" was published in 2010.  

A snippet below of her work:



Victoria Rue wanted to make sure we understood that women priests were not copies of 'male priests." "We're not interested in brocades," she says. "Women and 'feminine' priests are interested in understanding that it's not just about adding 'women to the mix' and calling it 'a day.'

Rue has studied liberation, feminist, and even lesbian theology. She likes to call her degree an M-Diva degree. Still, not commonplace! (not even close)

Victoria-Rue (2)

She reminds us that the female body has been put in the closet by the Roman Catholic Church for centuries and being 'proud of it' as a women' is still discouraged today. It's 2012. Women's bodies have repesented lust and sex for decades (okay, centuries) which .... she says, "must have been an embarrassment to a patriarchal God." 

She continues, "Feminist patriarchal Gods don't believe in that kind of God, a kind of God that excludes. We believe in a God that embraces equality for all." Asserting that langage is a critical component in life (loved her btw), she cites example after example of phrases that support movement and ones that don't -- from historical times to present day.

Bulgarian-born Ivan Krastev 'showed up' on video only...aka, we never met the man. He humorously reminds us that the Bulargians are one of the most depressed cultures on the planet. I looked over at Francis during his talk...he smiled while I remembered stats that supported the 'same' in his Hidden Europe book. (I'm currently on Croatia, about half way through the book - meaning I finished the chapter on Bulgaria).

Serial entrepreneur Harley-Sitner (1)Harlvey Sitner talked to the TEDxFillmore audience about organizational behavior and community.

He started and has subsequently led a sub-community at Burning Man called "Hippo Campus."

What was refreshing was the reminder that despite how 'plugged in' we think we are, we're not all that plugged in.

In other words, we're all islands within our own micro-communities and while they may grow to be thousands in numbers, still....only a small number of people know who we are, what we do, why we're valuable and a step further, why contribute in a way to accelerate that community or group?

Harley talked about group behavior. Crikey, I live in Silicon Valley and on many levels, feel as if I know every "Burner -- aka term given to a Burning Man attendee" on the planet....AND YET, I had not hard of Hippo Campus, a community which given the talk, would appear to be infamous worldwide.

Despite the fact that its not on my radar, according to Harley, the community not only exists, but it's thriving and renowned. In the passing of baton-theme, he talked about how they consciously created 'shared experiences' as they grew in size. 

KEY? Highlighting the fact that everyone has a 'unique gift' and that it's up to the community to identify each person's unique gift and to help manifest that 'gift' -- to the world.

He notes an observation that pertains to every organizational culture I know of on the planet - transitioning a personality-led culture to an organizational-led culture is really hard....more often that not, it simply fails. Lessons learned, he cites among others, these cores:

  • Have No Drama.
  • Have Radical Accountability.
  • Identify Sexy Projects...Sexy = Helpful and Authentic. It's All in the Terminology. (I added that part).
  • Fall Without Fear.
  • There is no Perfect Way.
  • Surface Area for Participation and Experimentation.
  • AT the end of the day, Harley reminds us that "culture transcends EVERYTHING. Culture is the DNA of the organization." Hear hear.
  • This couldn't be further from the truth in my own experience over the years, whether it was the size of a company like Computer Associates or Novell in its heydey or one of the umpteen start-ups I've launced over the past 15+ years.

Zienab-Abelgany (5)Egyptian Zienab Abdelgany surprised and delighted me. While she grew up in Irvine and went to UC Berkeley, she has always been heavily involved in organizing the Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities.

Currently, she is researching Pro-Palestine communities and effors and has been writing poetry that spans across all of these issues.

Her sweet spot? She speaks on identity and the politics of personhood.

Her energy and authenticity were wonderful. I loved her encouragement is to ask away despite how stupid and culturally ill-fitting the question may appear. Asking and being genuine and authentic in your ask regardless of what it is, is the first step.  

Additionally, musicians Therese Taylor and James Whiton played. Below are the hands of Whiton as he played a follow up jazz number appropriately following Watkin's talk on "Where Jazz Meets Democracy." My title, not his, but you get the point.

James-Whiton (6)

Below is a group shot of 4 out of the 6 speakers, the two curators and both musical performers.

TEDxFillmore Group Shot (9)

All photos credits by Renee Blodgett.


Don’t Die a Slow Death in a Mountain of Business Cards: Try inTooch!

Monday, 8 October, 2012

Death by Business Card I no longer get pumped up about cool new social apps or drink the Silicon Valley coolaid - there's just too much of it.

When I learn about new products or services, these are my two go to questions: would I use this today and does this solve a real problem that I've had for awhile?

When inTooch co-founder and CEO Julien Salanon gave me his pitch and suggested we work together, I was at first skeptical about their promise: to eliminate the business card problem.

While it's too early to tell since there are so many variables in this business not to mention human behavior, as a fellow entrepreneur, I couldn't help but be intrigued by his idea. And besides, Julien has one of those personalities that is impossible not to like. 

He shared a story with me as we sipped tea at one of my favorite haunts in San Francisco's SOMA. Nearly ten years ago, he was at an important conference and forgot his business cards and a result, important connections were lost.

Over the last decade, he said that he tried several apps to solve this business-card issue, but none of them worked. They still don't. Don't even get me started with BUMP btw, an app that peer pressure forced me to download yet it only worked one out of ten times I tried it. And, frankly, the whole concept of crashing two phones together doesn't quite gel with me. 


Julien said, "whenever I didn't have a business card or they didn't, I ended up calling the other person to leave my mobile number. And, that’s when I got the idea to enhance those natural connections with inTooch.”

While I may not call every person I meet at a conference, when I do meet someone I want to stay in touch with and we don't have a pen or card, what happens? They call me so the number is saved in my phone. What I don't have in that scenario of course is their name or email automatically, but it's a process that works in a pinch.

inTooch takes it a step further allowing you to email or call them on the fly which automatically sends a link: this link is the conduit which allows that exchange of information to happen. The beautiful part about the app and why it stands a strong chance of taking off, is that both parties don't need to have the app to work.


Intrigued that perhaps I'd soon have a client with a product I'd ACTUALLY USE, I decided to be the evil dragonness to avoid any surprises later on, so I started drilling him with questions. 

What about categorization I asked? Not in the first version he said, but it's coming. What about social networks? Built in he said. What about privacy and personalization? Built in he said. Hmm, I wanted categories of course given that I have nearly 100,000 contacts in my database, but also realize that I'm not your average Nelly when it comes to contact management.

As my friend Steve said, "you're not normal, you're in the business of needing to mate with the world. In fact, you love to mate with the world." I had to laugh. He's right. I love meeting people and no one seems to come home from an event with more business cards than I do.

AND, he said, the ability to add contacts to categories is coming. They already have the ability to separate personal and business contacts.

I'm a realist. Anyone who works with early start-ups needs to be a realist. Rome wasn't build in a day and most apps when they first go to market don't have every single detail or feature you want built in in their first version. As long as the team has it on the roadmap or thinking about it, it's good enough to give it a shot. If we didn't trust that process, real innovation wouldn't happen and we wouldn't be where we are today.

Unlike so many social apps that are Web 2.0 features rather than solutions to problems, I thought to myself, "inTooch would actually take care of a huge pain point in my life."

And so, we embarked on a journey in early September. Forward wind the clock. Julien took People's Choice Award at GigaOm's Mobilize in mid-September when he pitched a panel of VCs on stage.

Mobilize 9.20.12019_edited
Then, he officially launched inTooch on the DEMO Stage on October 3 with Dave Mathews in an amusing skit that included the duo tossing 2,000 business cards into the DEMO audience as they shouted FREEDOM, FREEDOM, FREEDOM.

Dave-Mathews and Julien-Salanon on Demo stage (29)

At one point, I thought Julien might start dancing when the music came on. OR, maybe it was one of those Halleluja moments.

Dave-Mathews and Julien-Salanon on Demo stage (32)

Consider this: did you realize that of all the people you meet at a conference or even in a personal situation, you won't stay in touch with 85% of them? Without sounding too trite - inTooch to the rescue.

Trust me, I want to be rescued and I think most of us do. I can't keep up with the volume of contacts and there are always people to want to follow up with and just don't have the time. There are also people's contact information I'm trying to locate months later and realized I didn't have time to enter their data.

There are 4 cool features I personally love about the app:

1. The Mobile Geo-Location Piece: since I travel a lot, I often think about people (and their faces) based on 'where' I met them. Oh yeah, that was John who I met at this festival in Louisville Kentucky, or that was Jeannie something and we hung out at CES in Las Vegas. Using geo-tagging, inTooch lets you search for people by location and their photo appears as well to jog your memory. Sweet!

2. Seamless/Fast: additionally, if I don't want to call the person or they don't want me to, I can shoot them an email and the inTooch connector still works. The other cool thing is that both parties don't need the app for the exchange to happen. Obviously the process is even faster if both people DO have the app, so I'd encourage everyone to download the app. Let the seamless exchange of data begin! 

3. Social Network Exchange. So many people I meet under the age of 30 either don't have a business card (even in a business setting), give me their Twitter handle or say connect with me on Facebook. (as if I'm going to remember their name or handle the next day or a week later when I'm back home).

I'm always amazed that they think I'll take the time to jot down their data with a visual queue of our conversation. It's too much work. What's great about inTooch is that you can opt to include the exchange of your social network information as well. It currently supports LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.


I've known Chris Taylor from Mashable for years and for some odd reason, didn't know he was @FutureBoy on Twitter. Ever try to Google a "common name's" Twitter handle and not get so frustrated by the fifth click that you finally give up? Don't get me started on the poor search functionality within Twitter itself although I know they're improving it all the time.

4. Augmented Reality: for personal encounters, inTooch brings augmented reality to your connections, alerting you to all the things you have in common with another person (friends, places you visited, music, movies you like, social network info, check-ins, interests you share) so you can instantly engage in mutually interesting conversations.


Bottom line, it's been a fun ride so far and we're only a month into it. Free to use, the app is available now for iPhone (except iOS6) and alive and ticking for the Android as well.

Support for iOS6, other platforms and mobile devices are also coming later this year.

So, give it a try. Don't die a slow death in a mountain of business cards like poor Matt Marshall here! Everyone has their limits.

Final Final Matt Marshall Slide

Below is a video shot by Jean Baptiste Su of their demo presentation.

See my earlier write-up on inTooch on the day of launch. And, refer to my two write-ups on Demo, 8 cool commerce apps and my DEMO photo summary.

Photo Credits: photo at GigaOm taken by Carla Schlemminger and all other photos by Renee Blodgett.

Ray Kurzweil on Ethics & Natural Language Processing

Friday, 5 October, 2012

Ray-Kurzweil on DEMO 2012 stage (19)There was an odd but interesting combination of fireside chats at DEMOFall this year: Ray Kurzweil and Ev Williams both took the stage over the course of the 2.5 day event in Santa Clara, CA.

Kurzweil, known for his work in voice recognition, natural language processing, singularity and future predictions, I'm always curious to hear what he's going to share, especially when he moves onto the brain.

Says Ray in a response to the question of why natural language processing has taken so long to advance, "you have to take a hierarchial approach just like human language - you have to build it that way. We learn things layer by layer and we have to educate our synthetic neocortexes too."

Ray-Kurzweil on DEMO 2012 stage (5)

When you start to dive deep into a discussion about synthetic neocortexes, where do you go from there, particularly when the majority of the audience are Web 2.0 and mobile geeks not scientists or researchers. Venture Beat's Matt Marshall interviewed Ray, his next to last stage interview before leaving the DEMO Conferences as producer.

Ray-Kurzweil on DEMO 2012 stage (20)

Matt asked about ethics, which was a perfect segway into artificial intelligence. You can't have a discussion with Ray without artificial intelligence coming up at least once

"Technology has always been a double edged sword," says Ray. "Just like fire has been used for good and evil, AI can be as dangerous as fire when put in the wrong hands." He reminded the audience that AI is already widely distributed however and that it's not just being used in a dark lab in some government building.

And, look how far we've come. A kid in Africa now has access to more knowledge and information than the President of the United States did 20 years ago. If that's not an example of exponential growth, I don't know what is...

See below for the interview on video. Even though it is a HD video clip, bear in mind that the sound quality may not be crisp.