Musings on UTR 2008

Every year I attend the Under The Radar conference held at the Microsoft Silicon Valley location. The organization is flawless, the companies interesting, and the facilities are wonderful.

If you don’t know, UTR is a showcase for start-ups that are not (yet) in the limelight. In fact, this is where many launch to the world.

The format is that each start-up is given 6 minutes to pitch their story and then a panel (or the audience) asks a few questions. Typically, each company is talking for about 15 minutes. It is long enough to get a real sense of if they are onto something, but not too long to bore you to death. The only downside is that you really only see about half of the companies since they have two tracks and you are forced to pick one.

Here were the most common themes:

1. Flash UI – Everyone had one. Some needed it. Some didn’t.

2. Virtualization – Storage, computing, identity, etc. Why own anything anymore?

3. Developers – The api and the people who use them. Very important.

4. Platform – You mean you don’t have a robust, open scalable platform?

5. Marketing Matters – The best feature DEFINITELY does not always win.

A couple of interesting companies:

Vello – A great service for audio conferencing. Never again remember a pin or meeting ID. Works very, very well – but expensive. It also smells like a feature instead of a full product. If they took a lesson from Chris Andersen I would use them all day.

NetBooks – They are basically quickbooks online for your entire business (not just finance). I loved their focus on true small business. I think they will do very well. It only makes sense to move from accounting to business management – plus they have a good founding team. Downside – their UI is awful. They need to work on that asap.

Blist – Online “database”. They are great for tracking lists of stuff. Beautiful UI. Downside is that when they say Beta, they mean it. I do wonder if excel is really broken…

Ribbit – They are what the phone company would be if they set up shop today. Pretty cool features worth checking out – downside, you can’t get an account.

Magento – Open source ecommerce. I am rooting for these guys since I find most of the solutions out there very bad. I can’t wait to see their SAAS version. So far looks like good traction though.

LiquidPlanner – A new take on project management ( I thought).  I was excited to see these guys talk about the death of the Gantt chart, but then they went into a demo of one!  So in the end, they just added a probabilities to estimates.  My quest for the right project mgmt tool continues (sigh).

HiveLive – Another social community tool, but I like their angle on configuration for future enhancements.  It is a big issue and if they nail it, they will do well.  Frankly, I couldn’t tell from the brief demo, but I’ll take a closer look soon.

At the end of the day, it was very obvious who started a business based on a real pain they lived with and who got funding to try to make money. I know who I am betting on.

AboutPaul

a.k.a.:ppedrazzi

10 comments

  1. Hi Paul – Thanks for noting LiquidPlanner. It’s tough to describe a concept like revolutionizing the Gantt chart and building a product around it a 6 minute demo. It’s not your standard consumer software which is what is mostly seen at UTR. The LiquidPlanner schedule is designed to look familiar, but it functions in a dramatically different way than a typical Gantt. I would be happy to setup a web conference with you if you’d like a briefing. Key things you’ll see include: capturing uncertainty, seeing effects of uncertainty on dependant and independant chains, automatic tracking, and how (by capturing every change) the system builds up a data warehouse of project information that can be leveraged to help organizations learn how to be better estimators.

    Best Regards, Charles, CEO | LiquidPlanner.

  2. Hi Paul – Thanks for noting LiquidPlanner. It’s tough to describe a concept like revolutionizing the Gantt chart and building a product around it a 6 minute demo. It’s not your standard consumer software which is what is mostly seen at UTR. The LiquidPlanner schedule is designed to look familiar, but it functions in a dramatically different way than a typical Gantt. I would be happy to setup a web conference with you if you’d like a briefing. Key things you’ll see include: capturing uncertainty, seeing effects of uncertainty on dependant and independant chains, automatic tracking, and how (by capturing every change) the system builds up a data warehouse of project information that can be leveraged to help organizations learn how to be better estimators.

    Best Regards, Charles, CEO | LiquidPlanner.

  3. Hi Charles, I am sure your approach yields a much improved result vis a vis something like MS Project. I do not doubt that. To be fair, the problem I am looking to solve is more for the casual projects that mire my existence more than the structured, long term, projects. The ones where no one wants or needs a full project plan is where I see the most pain. Obviously you are not tackling that market, but I do see some others taking a stab at it (sadly using the same old models, but now on the web).

    I tend to think that for the ad hoc projects we need something outside the standard task, owner, deliverable mindset. I even think that a zero UI might be the answer.

    Of course I don’t have a solution either, but I keep looking…

    Thanks for the comment!

    Paul

  4. Hi Charles, I am sure your approach yields a much improved result vis a vis something like MS Project. I do not doubt that. To be fair, the problem I am looking to solve is more for the casual projects that mire my existence more than the structured, long term, projects. The ones where no one wants or needs a full project plan is where I see the most pain. Obviously you are not tackling that market, but I do see some others taking a stab at it (sadly using the same old models, but now on the web).

    I tend to think that for the ad hoc projects we need something outside the standard task, owner, deliverable mindset. I even think that a zero UI might be the answer.

    Of course I don’t have a solution either, but I keep looking…

    Thanks for the comment!

    Paul

  5. Thanks for the kind words, Paul.

    Rest assured that we’re working on reskinning the UI as we speak. It’ll take a little while longer than we’d like, but we wanted to get the “innards” right first. Not very Web 2.0, I know, but the right priority given our stewardship of customers’ data.

    Best,

    –Ridge

  6. Thanks for the kind words, Paul.

    Rest assured that we’re working on reskinning the UI as we speak. It’ll take a little while longer than we’d like, but we wanted to get the “innards” right first. Not very Web 2.0, I know, but the right priority given our stewardship of customers’ data.

    Best,

    –Ridge

  7. Ridgely, I am sure you have the right priorities. In fact, I even wonder how slick the UI needs to be for your audience – your bare bones approach may be just fine. eBay made it with a terrible user experience and I used to think Excite would crush Google, so it’s more of a personal preference for me.

    That said, more and more UI is a differentiator. It is the first thing you see after all and a big message of quality (or lack therof) sent to potential users. I certainly wouldn’t buy from a website that looked like a FrontPage template. I look forward to the refresh!

    Thanks for the comment.

  8. Ridgely, I am sure you have the right priorities. In fact, I even wonder how slick the UI needs to be for your audience – your bare bones approach may be just fine. eBay made it with a terrible user experience and I used to think Excite would crush Google, so it’s more of a personal preference for me.

    That said, more and more UI is a differentiator. It is the first thing you see after all and a big message of quality (or lack therof) sent to potential users. I certainly wouldn’t buy from a website that looked like a FrontPage template. I look forward to the refresh!

    Thanks for the comment.

  9. Thanks for mentioning blist – basically we have a window of opportunity to do much needed rapid feature development before we release a premium version of blist and charge actual, real money for it – at which point, it obviously won’t be okay to be ‘very beta’.

    Mat

  10. Thanks for mentioning blist – basically we have a window of opportunity to do much needed rapid feature development before we release a premium version of blist and charge actual, real money for it – at which point, it obviously won’t be okay to be ‘very beta’.

    Mat

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