• Santa Cruz Project Lights Up Kickstarter


    With a Kickstarter campaign that fully funded in 15 minutes Zohar Wouk is not on a typical teenager’s path. He veered from that path toward the end of 11th grade when he left school to attend an entrepreneurship boot camp at Draper University.  It was there that he first came up with the idea for Futuristic Lights — and the passion to advance technology for the art of Gloving

    I had the chance to talk with Zohar and this is what. I learned.

    When Zohar and his then 9th grader  coder AbeAbe Karplus attended the 2014 TechRaising weekend they had been working on the prototype for their first product for almost a year. Zohar’s mother participated at TechRaising the previous year and built Snappost. From what Zohar heard and observed, he thought to bring his idea to TechRaising to see how far they could push themselves and how much they could accomplish in the two days. They ended up getting much more out of the weekend than a bunch of code written.

    This was the first time they had shared the project publicly and they gained many valuable insights from experts — from UI designers to VC’s. This helped them clarify where they were going with the project. But most of all, the most lasting outcome of the weekend was connecting with the Santa Cruz tech community that has continued to offer support, insights, feedback, and connections.

    Since TechRaising 2014, Zohar and Abe added Abe Jellinek, Pawel Faryna and Michael Chubbs Marchetteto to their team and they honed their focus to a single product — The Kinetic under the company Futuristic Lights. They have plans for additional product after they launch and learn from The Kinetic.

    Being young, fresh, broke entrepreneurs, they didn’t have the funds to finance the first round of manufacturing. They decided that Kickstarter would be an ideal vehicle for raising funds for The Kinetic. Kickstarter is a great way to reach groups of people that are passionate about niche products. Products that they feel they have a role in making possible and products they want to use themselves. This gives the group a reason to rally around the project. If the project doesn’t meet it’s funding goal it doesn’t happen.

    The gloving community, is active and vibrant — and certainly rallied around the Kinetic. One of the reason’s for the success of the Futuristic Lights Kickstarter campaign is the active curation of, and communication with, that community.

    Much of this happens on Facebook. Zohar’s team made the launch of the Kickstarter campaign an anticipated event – much like the opportunity to buy tickets to a concert that is surely going to sell out. They created videos highlighting each of the 6 modes of the gloves and two more teasers about the project. Each of these videos was rolled out over the course of a month. Soon the gloving community was waiting in anticipation for the next video revealing another feature.

    When they announced the launch date and time they combined it with a give away of the product. Sharing the post was the ticket to enter the give away. The post was shared 1000 times and had a reach of almost 70,000 people.

    The gloving community was so primed and excited for the launch that they were waiting with rockstar fan anticipation for the launch. Like standing on line for concert tickets to go on sale they were waiting online for the Kickstarter to begin. They were there to click as fast as they could to get one of the early bird specials. And boy did they go fast.

    Still, the team wasn’t sure what would happen.  They thought the community was excited but had no idea how much. Despite the whole team’s hard work, the five were very nervous that the project wouldn’t get funded. They guessed they would raise about $5000 the first day and would consider that a win. For them, it was surreal watching the numbers climb and climb. Their initial $20k goal was the absolute minimum required to produce the basic product. With every dollar as the campaign grows they gain confidence in the quality of their ability to deliver a great product.

    The Kickstarter campaign runs until Jan 11, 2015.  Click here to light up your world.


    Tags: Futuristic Lights, Kickstarter, Zohar Wouk
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  • Essential Tips For Pitching Your Startup


    pitch tips

    As we approach the 2014 TechRaising Weekend April 25-27  let’s look at some of the insights that we learned from Adeo Ressi’s Pitch Practice session during last July’s TechRaising Meetup.

    All of these tips are essential when you are pitching to investors. And most will help you create a great pitch to attract team member to help work on your idea at TechRaising. Take a look and ask questions I the comments or tell us what you think.

    Adeo’s Pitching Tips

    Don’t ever use adjectives and especially superlatives.  You may think your idea is the best, the greatest, the first. Chances are the VC you are talking to has heard that same idea 100 times in the last two weeks. Ideas come in waves, if you thought of it chances are at least 975 other people did too. In Adeo ‘s case, when he hears superlatives you lose so much credibility he has to fight himself to “re-listen to what is coming out of your mouth.”

    His advice: Don’t squander your precious time in front a VC — get straight to what they need to hear: tell them what you product is, who buys it and what problem it solves.

    All businesses have one customer. Tell me whom you are helping – and it can’t be half of humanity. Yes you want to have a broad customer base, and it needs to be a specific segment of humanity. “Men” is not a specific segment. That is half of humanity.

    The customer is who’s paying.  Always focus on the people with the money – especially when you are creating a market place.

    Use the phrase, “My [product or service] helps specific segment of humanity to [do what]” Not “I’m helping them by….”

    Never, Never, Never, Ever – Start your pitch with Questions. 1) Unless you are actually gathering market data you are wasting time that you could be using to tell your story about your business.  2) Big risk: If no one engages your pitch has just crashed & burned.

    Appear fresh and new – Saying that you have been working on your product/idea for the last 5 years is often not a good thing. You want to give the appearance of magic — that your idea just came from the ether and hey “look at this prototype we created over night!”  If you tell them that you have been at this for years – they’re going to want to see all the customers you’ve garnered in that time.

    You spend all day thinking about your business model and need to make it comprehensible in a short pitch. Don’t give partial information. If there are 10 parts to you model don’t give only parts 4, 6 & 9 in your pitch. It confuses the audience. Find a way to distill your whole model into your pitch. (By the way, if your model requires 10 parts you may need to reexamine your model.)

    Don’t lead with your “oh so clever phrase” or your data – Always start with what you are creating. People need the context first for you stats or clever phrase to make sense. Otherwise they are confused on where you are going with this. You don’t want to start them off questioning the data. Use the data to justify their gut feeling after you already sold the idea. Not the state you want the people with the purse strings to be in! Seriously, resist the temptation to be what you think is a great showman. Trust Adeo on this, your stats or catchy phrase will be even more powerful when people know what the heck you’re talking about!

    Start with this phrase  “My company (insert name) is developing (insert a concrete item – website, mobile app, software etc) to solve (name the problem) with (insert your secret sauce)”.

    When you’re the winner, Shut Up!  When you’re pitch has landed stop talking. Maybe the hardest thing to do and also the most important. Any top sales pro knows this and it is still hard for them.

    Ok, now that you are ready you can get your TechRaising Tickets here.

    Image: Flickr – Adam

    Tags: adeo ressi, startup advice, Startup Pitch
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  • TechRaising Photos :: 2012-Oct


    Thanks so much to Darren Odden and Adam Freidin for your fantastic photos from the event. Click the image below to see more photos from the weekend event.

     This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.



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  • Plantronics Developer Connection Opens Possibilities With Spokes SDK


    And now a word from our sponsor…

    Hi all you TechRaisers!

    Just thought we would drop a quick blog post and tell you a bit about our group, the Plantronics Developer Connection, and ask for your consideration when you think about your pitch for TechRaising.

    The Plantronics Developer Connection is based out of Plantronics HQ, here in Santa Cruz.  As you are probably aware, Plantronics makes headsets.  We make all kinds of headsets, including Bluetooth ones, and ones you plug into your computer via USB, and even the little stereo ear bud ones to plug into your flip-phone.  So yeah, you probably know us for our headsets.

    What you might not know, is that we also have a software side that goes along with our headsets.  This software is called Spokes.

    Spokes software has been available Plantronics devices for quite some time now and even has a mature SDK associated with it.

    What’s new is that we are now publicly exposing the Spokes SDK and inviting developers to download it, check it out, and build cool things with it.  We are presenting the Spokes SDK through the Plantronics Developer Connection ( which also houses all the technical documentation and sample code associated with Spokes.

    We launched the Plantronics Developer Connection in May and we are trying to get our story out to the developer community and promote awareness of what the Spokes SDK and all it has to offer.

    What’s our story and what does the Spokes SDK have to offer?

    Our story is that our headsets do more than just audio.

    What else can they do?

    Our headsets can detect when they are on your head or off your head. They can detect if you are near your PC or away from your PC.  Our headsets know the incoming Caller ID from the mobile phone they are paired with.  Also, our headsets all have unique serial ids that can be used within secure environments to provide an extra layer of security ID.

    The best part is, developers have access to all these headset events through the Spokes SDK.

    That is our story… Plantronics headsets can do some cool things beyond just providing audio, and now developers can tap into these headset abilities and create killer apps based on these actions via the Spokes SDK.  You can find the Spokes SDK and everything you need to get started (technical docs, sample code and monitored forums) at the Plantronics Developer Connection. (

    Of course, nothing beats a good example, so here are a few examples of what our Application Partners have already built using the Spokes SDK.

    Threewill:  “Popcorn for Jive” uses the Spokes Mobile Caller ID API to get the incoming Caller ID off the mobile phone and uses it to look up in Jive who is calling.  Check the YouTube video to see the demo.   Popcorn is also able to do this for and you can see that demo here.

    Datahug: Datahug is an enterprise connection service.  Datahug knows “who is talking to who” within your enterprise, and allows you to find connections within other companies you did not even know existed. Datahug uses the Spokes Mobile Caller ID API to monitor incoming calls on the mobile phone and pair them to your contact list. This gives a much more accurate picture of “who is talking to who” within your enterprise.  Check out the YouTube demo to see it in action.

    Sococo:  Sococo Team Space integration with Plantronics.  Sococo provides a virtual office space so teams that are spread out remotely can easily meet and coordinate online in a virtual office space.  Sococo uses the Spokes “Don/Doff” API to know when the user is physically wearing the Plantronics Voyager Pro.  As soon as the user takes the headset off, their status within Team Space is immediately updated to unavailable.  Check out the video demo from Sococo to see it all in action.

    Now that you have seen some examples of our SDK in action, hopefully it has inspired you to think of ways to us the Spokes SDK within your own app or service.

    We really hope you do consider our SDK when you decide on what to build for TechRaising.  Also, as an added little bonus, if you and your team do decide to build something using our SDK, we will get you and the rest of your team members FREE Voyager Pro UC headsets to test your app with and then to keep and take home with you.   Don’t tell anyone, but we might even bring some unreleased hardware and firmware bundles for you to experiment with, so you can be the first developers ever to have access to these specially bundled firmware packs.  This is all very exciting to us and we hope this will inspire you to check out the Spokes SDK and build something awesome with it.

    We are really looking forward to this event, and can’t wait for it to start!

    See you Friday for the pitches!



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  • Four Steps to Success – Alex Cowan’s practical guide to building a startup


    Alex Cowan, founder of the enterprise communications software company Leonid Systems and author of the recently published Starting a Tech Business, says his book does not bring any particularly new ideas to the table. Instead, he says, it takes the best thinking from the contemporary tech world and translates it for non-engineers and other mortals.

    Cowan will lead a four-hour, full-immersion workshop called “New Product Development in Four Steps” for TechRaising members and friends on Tuesday, Oct. 9, drawing from ideas in his book. Most of the strategies being explained and workshopped will be familiar to anyone who has spent any time considering the tech business scene: Cowan will cover design thinking, lean business principles, the “customer development” (versus “product development”) model, and the application of “agile” software-development ideas to a startup environment.

    Cowan promises that the workshop will be as valuable to people familiar with these buzzwords as it will to those for whom they are new ideas.

    “Watching ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ isn’t the same as learning how to tango,” he says. And this workshop, which will involve a series of hands-on exercises, will be more like dancing lessons than a speech.

    Cowan learned these cutting-edge best practices in part by building a successful startup. In 2007, Leonid Systems was called Leonid Consulting, and Cowan was the lone employee. Today it employs 35-plus, with offices in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Bucharest, Romania. Along the way, Leonid became a software company, as Cowan decided to turn the practices and utilities he was selling into products.

    Running a self-funded enterprise-level company was challenging, Cowan recalls. “I mean, it was brutal,” he says. While growing Leonid, he read all of the current literature, from Steve Blank’s “Four Steps to the Epiphany” to Eric Reis’s “The Lean Startup,” and he was able to apply best practices to his company while the sales graph turned into a hockey stick. (“Still,” he says, “a little bit of financing would have been nice.”)

    While using the stuff he was learning from the new-tech business gurus, Cowan was somewhat surprised to find that most of the companies he was tracking, and some that he was doing business with, were not heeding this good advice.

    “The big ideas in high-tech, and how they apply beyond high tech, are pretty much universally accepted,” he says. “I mean, nobody says ‘lean’ thinking is bad. But there’s a big gap between the number of people who’ve read these books and the number of companies that apply them. It’s a paradox. Why aren’t these things more widely practiced?”

    Cowan concluded that the problem was that there weren’t enough practical guidelines about how to implement these big ideas. Hence, Starting a Tech Business.

    Simply put, his book bridges the gap between theory and practice, offering exercises that show how design thinking, etc., can be put in play in real-world situations.

    Cowan is not at all ashamed that his book re-frames a variety of ideas that have been around for a while. On the contrary, he proudly points out that one of his favorite ideas in Starting a Tech Business—the “AIDA” marketing framework, is 100 years old.

    “A lot of business books claim to deliver ‘the secret,’ some Rosetta Stone, how to work an hour a week and become a millionaire. This is simply a practical application of the best ideas coming out of product development in high-tech.”

    Alex Cowan will present New Product Development In Four Steps on Tuesday, Oct. 9, from 5:30-9:30. Cruzio Internet, 877 Cedar St., Santa Cruz.

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  • Twitter’s Bart Teeuwisse Will Showcase Bootstrap at Sept 20 TechRaising Meetup


    Over the past 12 months, Twitter’s Bootstrap—a free, open-source web-development toolkit released last August with the slogan “By Nerds, For Nerds”—has become a phenomenon that is already changing the look of the web.

    While Bootstrap is designed to be accessible to non-coders, it has become popular with hardcore nerds (as promised). It has been the number one project on GitHub, a web-hosting repository and hangout for developers and engineers, all year.

    According to Bart Teeuwisse, an engineer/evangelist at Twitter (and TechRaising mentor), Bootstrap’s popularity can be explained simply: “It reduces the time and effort required to create a good-looking site that works across a variety of browsers.”

    “With Bootstrap you don’t need a whole lot of technical know-how to start creating website mockups. It isn’t the end-all be-all, but it can be an important piece of the puzzle.”

    At the next TechRaising Meetup on September 20, Teeuwisse will explain how Bootstrap works, and suggest some ways developers, designers and others might find it useful. He’ll also do some “live-coding” to demonstrate how easy it is to create a feature-rich functional mockup with the design consistency that is Bootstrap’s hallmark.

    Teeuwisse explains that Bootstrap grew out of an internal Twitter tools group that was tasked with creating dashboards for internal analytics and all kinds of other uses. Each project required a user interface, and the group decided that, rather than “reinvent the wheel over and over,” they’d standardize their style.

    In October 2010, Twitter staged its first “Hack Week,” inviting its employees to work on new projects outside their normal job duties. By the end of the week the Bootstrap team had built a stable platform incorporating some essential design standards. What they came up with is essentially a collection of CSS and HTML conventions, a library of JavaScript code for creating elements such as navigation, typography, buttons, tables, icons, etc., as well as a flexible grid system for creating page layouts.

    Importantly, Teeuwisse says, Bootstrap allows users to customize their layout: “It doesn’t force you into using any default styles.” Perhaps even more importantly, it creates a “responsive” design that queries whatever device is calling for a page, and delivers an appropriate design to any screen on any device on any browser.

    Last August, Twitter released Bootstrap—and its code—to the public and open-sourced the project. Teeuwisse says this has turned into a big win-win for Twitter and the development community.

    Bart Teeuwisse will discuss Bootstrap on Thursday, September 20, at Cruzioworks, 877 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Gather at 6:30, presentation begins at 7pm. RSVP here.

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  • What Every Entrepreneur Needs To Know About Funding


    One of the most difficult things for an entrepreneur is figuring out how to finance the business. While entrepreneurs may be experts in their industries and/or in the technical requirements of their businesses, many have little or no knowledge of how to  get the investment necessary to allow their expertise and companies to shine.  Last month we were fortunate to have Craig Vachon, an extremely savvy and experienced investor, share his knowledge of the investment landscape with us. This was a provocative presentation that laid out all the options progressing from the most desirable form of investment (no investment) to the least desirable.  The presentation was framed in the context that…

    Investment equals selling your company.  The goal is to sell as little as possible.

    Check out the slide deck below to learn more about how to navigate these waters.  Happy sailing!

    If you liked this, check out the June 28 TechRaising Meetup, where serial entrepreneur Sol Lipman will talk about what it takes to get your product launched.

    Tags: Angel investors, crowdsourcing, entrepreneurship, funding, investment
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  • Finding My Inner Dork at TechRaising


    As I started to take Jose Caballer’s awesome F.E.D.O. personality test at TechRasing here Saturday, I was hoping to find out I was an Evil. Being an Evil would be cool, and I believed I had a chance: For most of my career in media, beginning with the co-founding of the Missoula Independent 21 years ago, I have been the boss, and everyone knows bosses are Evil. But as I circled the F.E.D.O. test’s “this-or-that” choices, I could tell it wasn’t going that way.

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  • Founder Institute gives TechRaiser a Scholarship


    The dinner bell at TechRaising Spring 2012 brought an extra-special announcement from Andrew Mueller and Gary Herman: The Founder Institute is offering each TechRaising team a free application to their May 2012 program. They will award a full tuition scholarship to one team of their choosing ($1,500 value).

    Tags: adeo ressi, entrepreneur, founders institute, scholarship, start-up
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  • Pitch Night April 20, 2012


    Read on for tweets from Pitch night …

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