US Patent Applications

My brother pointed out to me that my name shows up (finally!) on a US patent application search.

At MyFamily.com we had many ideas and applied for multiple patents. I’m not sure any has issued yet; but at least one is now visible at the USPTO web site.

The patent advanced search engine is highly fielded but has one of the worst interfaces I have used in a long time. I finally figured out how to query it to find our application on what I call the “Visual Next Click Analysis Tool” that we used in-house.

This is much like the Omniture Click Map feature, which I love.

A patent attorney friend told me that only 3% of all patents that are issued actually generate commercial value.

Another patent attorney recently showed me a patent on a way to comb your hair from four different sides to cover up male baldness. So some patents are silly.

But it is still nice to see your name in lights, er, online, every once in a while. :)

(Note: I left MyFamily.com in Feb 2002 and haven’t been directly involved with the company since then. I am not a company insider.)

Alan Hall speech at E Station ceremony

(Note: these are my notes from Alan’s Hall speech at the E Station ribbon cutting. They are his words, as well as I could capture them, not mine.)

I hope that in the future we’ll look back on this date and realize that this initiative has been a success.

If just one great company comes out of all this investment, perhaps the size of MarketStar, then we would count this as a great success. But we think we have a secret sauce and have the ability to create many successful companies.

My wife and I have been blessed by the Lord with financial resources. We feel a need to give back. The IRS says we own these assets, but we believe they belong to the Lord, and we are stewards over them.

We hope to build many companies and create many new jobs here in Utah.

Our goal is not to take the money after a harvest and keep it.

After a liquidity event, the money will go back into the fund. It won’t inure to our benefit. It will be an economic engine that can keep helping the Utah economy.

The governor has a vision for economic development, and we think there is nothing wrong with private individuals contributing where they can. Our expertise is in entrepreneurship, so we want to help where we can.

We are not here to take any credit to ourselves. We intend to deflect it to others.

We have a good team of people. Craig Bott, CEO, Chuck Duncan, Gary Winger, Greg Warnock, Sherm Smith, Chris Anderson, Kent Thomas.

Our five year goal is to see 100 new companies from Provo to Logan that are helped by Grow Utah Ventures. Besides the GUV dollars we have to invest, we are looking for other investors. $15 million to me is a lot of money, so we need partners to help generate this funding.

How will we find 100 companies to invest in?

1. Conditioning: we want to let entrepreneurs know the resources that are available to help them.

We already have 2 companies a day looking for money on our GUV web site.

2. Investing. We will put our money into these companies, but we want to own no more than one third of the company.

I’ve learned that the moment you take control away from the entrepreneur that you lose some of their vigor.

3. Rallying Others. I’ve noticed that I will run out of money personally if I keep investing, so we are looking for 100 other accredited investors in the state that will invest.

We’re also trying to rally other financial institutions, education, and government to the cause.

We have partnered with Lumin Publishing (publisher of Connect Magazine) to sponsor 5 events attracting about 1,500 people.

Greg Warnock came up with a Junto program about a year ago. Junto means together in Spanish. Benjamin Franklin had a Junto group that met to discuss political issues.

In our Junto program we meet for 8 weeks, 3 hours a week, we teach them how to be entrepreneurs.

Some come away having learned that they are not entrepreneurs.

But we take 10 each year whom we think can be serial entrepreneurs, and we invest $50,000 in them.

Bill Gates was student age when he came up with his great idea.

We have invested in 15 students to date.

We have already invested $3 million in 15 companies from Provo to Ogden.

As part of our rallying, we’ve formed angel investor groups in several places.

Jim Ellsworth here is the head of Olympus Angels. They have about 20 members.

Our goal is at the end of the first quarter, we’ll have 100 investors to invest $25,000 each per year over ther next five years. That is $12.5 million.

We want to support other incubators in Utah as well. The Simmons family is honoring their parents with an incubator building, at the Davis Applied Technology College. The Hall Foundation is making an investment there as well.

Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.

Geek Dinner in Utah County, Wed Night

Some of the smartest people I know are meeting for a geek dinner Wednesday night at Los Hermanos in Lindon. All other geeks are welcome. Please check this out.

The registrations doubled today to 23 or so, and we hope to get another dozen or two people signed up before this is over.

Utah Geek Dinners are a brainchild of Phil Burns, COO for our soon-to-be-christened Provo Labs. (Provo Labs will replace Infobase Ventures as our internet business incubator).

These Geek Dinners are not related to our other ventures. They are just an effort to create more events in Utah for techies. Phil Burns and some of his partners have a great vision for creating places where coders of all kinds can share ideas, share code, and start businesses together.

Phil is also exploring some concepts of micro-financing startup companies that come out of the open source community. He is having discussions with leading Web 2.0 geeks from both coasts to see where things are headed.

BTW, Phil Windley, another close friend and one of my favorite geeks will be speaking Wednesday night. I think podcasting equipment will be on hand, as well as video projector and wireless for all attendees.

I can’t stay for the whole evening, but this is going to be very cool.

Cap Table Management Software

One of the things I love about running an incubator is that knowledge is worth more to us than it is in the hands of a single startup company.

Why? Because if we learn something or discover something of value, then we can apply it multiple times, not just once. If a new tool creates value, or if a new process cuts costs, it’s great to be able to apply it to every business where it would increase revenue or margins.

In the past when I found a new idea, I could usually only apply it once.

Today I started looking for software that can manage cap tables for all the companies which we start. Currently I have a few dozen Excel spreadsheets, some of which are out of date, that contain cap tables for our companies in their various stages.

It is a royal pain to try to calculate equity ownership when there are angels or VCs investing in a company and there are also stock option plans for management and employees that vest over time. You are mixing ownership with options and sometimes warrants (contingent options) with different time periods. It is very confusing. I know Excel is not the best way to do this.

So today I found a company, Two Step Software, from Waltham, Mass, that looks like they have a good software solution to this. My only fear is that their pricing model might be designed for large law firms, not small incubators.

Has anyone out there used Two Step’s Corporate Focus Software, or any other cap table management software program?

Here’s the link: http://www.twostep.com/solutions/ownership.htm

If you know anything about this kind of software, please tell me what you think.

The Vision of Grow Utah Ventures

I’m sitting inside the old greyhound bus station on Ogden’s infamous 25th street.

But it isn’t a bus station anymore. Utah visionary Alan Hall and his team at Grow Utah Ventures have purchased the old bus depot. They are renovating it and today are christening it the “E Station.”

E, of course, stands for entrepreneur.

Alan Hall’s vision is for Grow Utah Ventures to be the most influential private sector force for economic development in the state of Utah, with a focus on Northern Utah.

In the next five years Grow Utah Ventures plans to launch 100 new companies, invest $15 million in entrepreneurs, and create over 2,000 good paying jobs.

The E Station will be a launch center for new companies, providing low cost office space, mentoring from GUV Advisors, and sales and marketing assistance.

GUV companies will also have access to expansion capital because GUV is closely allied with many angel investor groups in Utah, including groups in Salt Lake, Weber, Davis, Cache and Washington Counties.

The E Station ribbon cutting starts in 10 minutes.

It is conveniently located a block away from MarketStar, a global sales and marketing outsourcing company which helped its clients sell more than $8 billion in products last year.

I love Alan’s vision. I believe the economic impact from funding 100 companies and mentoring hundreds of entrepreneurs will be vast. It will be part of his lasting legacy.

At a time when people worldwide are complaining about slow government response to every external event and disaster, I love watching private entrepreneurship and philanthropy having such a major impact on the world.

From Larry and Sergey’s incalculable effect on the worldwide diffusion of knowledge, to Clara Barton’s Red Cross, which provides relief to millions, to Habitat for Humanity’s vision of providing homes to the needy, and on and on. These things come from individual initiative, not government fiat.

Remember JFK’s powerful words: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

Think of the kind of world we would create together if all of us tried to answer that question.

Thanks, Alan, for answering it with this wonderful Grow Utah Ventures initiative!

Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.

The Cost of Research

I am spending a good deal of time trying to determine where mobile technology is going. Several of my companies are going to be involved in delivering content or services to mobile devices including cell phones.

So it is a bit frustrating to keep finding research analyst reports that are priced in the $2-5,000 range. Here’s a 53 page report on the future of mobile phones selling for $3,495.

A few months back I blogged about 5 Most Valuable Services Most Internet Entrepreneurs Can’t Afford. I included Jupiter Research services back then in first place. I should update that post by stating that in nearly every industry there are analysts that publish expensive reports that you can’t afford to do without.

But when is the last time you paid $70 per page for anything? Ouch.

I paid $170 a couple years back for a Jakob Nielsen book on e-commerce usability. And last year I bought an encyclopedia of Nanotechnology for a couple hundred dollars — but those are rare purchases.

I much prefer the Amazon (or was it Google?) rent a book approach where they anticipate charging $.10 per page.

Can anyone direct me to low-cost or free analyst research that projects adoption of mobile phones or portable computing devices as they related to GPS technology, portable gaming devices, digital wallets, and audio and video capabilities?

Does anyone have a favorite analyst or blogger that publishes forecasts on adoption rates for some or all of these new technologies?

Zoovy: Rapid Response to New Opportunities

I have a friend who uses Zoovy for her e-commerce system. That is the only way — until today — that I had heard of the company.

But today I was very impressed to discover that they have already integrated their e-commerce services with Google Analytics, Google Base and Google Site Map.

My friend really likes Zoovy. Now I can see why.

Most companies I know dedicate all or most of their developers to longer term projects–projects that take weeks or months to implement. They don’t have resources available to rapidly respond to outside opportunities.

Zoovy seems different. I am impressed at how quickly they have responded to Google’s new services.

Has anyone seen any other e-commerce service provider already announce an integration with both Google Analytics and Google Base?

Google + Yahoo + eBay + Amazon = less than Microsoft

Interesting to add up the market caps of the 4 leading internet companies and compare them to 30 year old Microsoft.

Google: $124.9 billion
eBay: $66 billion
Yahoo: $61.2 billion
Amazon: $20 billion
Total: $272.1 billion

Microsoft: $297.7 billion

I blogged in 2004, months before Google went public, that within 10-15 years Google’s market cap would surpass Microsoft’s.

In September, I said Google’s market cap would pass Yahoo’s by Q1 2005.

Then, in February of this year, I revised my forecast and said it won’t even take 10 years for Google to pass Microsoft.

It now seems that within a few more weeks, the combined market caps of Google, eBay, Yahoo, and Amazon will pass Microsoft’s. And then within a few more years, Google will likely be on top.

World Digital Library

Librarian of Congress James Billington is proposing a World Digital Library project that will provide free access to millions of important documents from around the world.

Google is donating $3 million to the cause. Others will join it. The American Memory project from the Library of Congress already provides free access to millions of pages of American history content.

In 1990 I co-founded a CD ROM publishing company. Our stated mission was to “identify the most important books in every field of human knowledge and to make them available on CD ROM.”

We built a good little company but we barely made a dent in digitizing the world’s store of knowledge.

Just 15 years later it is clear that virtually all the books ever written will soon be digitized and made available on the World Wide Web.

Google Print, the Open Content Alliance (involving the Internet Archive, Yahoo and Microsoft, among others), the Million Book Project, and now the World Digital Library are devoting millions of dollars to the cause.

In 1988 I heard then BYU President Jeffrey R. Holland give a brilliant speech to the BYU Faculty about gathering truth. (His talk inspired what our CD ROM company tried to do two years later.)

He made a great point in that speech which seems even more important now, as we approach a world where millions of books are freely available to anyone.

“[What] the present world needs more than ever before, are those educated, and spiritual, and wise who will sort, sift, prioritize, integrate, give some sense of wholeness, some spirit of connectedness to great eternal truths. . . . The watchmen on the tower cry out for those who will integrate, coalesce, clarify, give both order and rank to important human knowledge.”

Will future generations be better off than previous ones just because with a few clicks we can read the words from any book ever published?

Will access to near infinite knowledge bring the world peace and prosperity?

James Billington suggests that “Libraries are inherently islands of freedom and antidotes to fanaticism. They are temples of pluralism where books that contradict one another stand peacefully side by side just as intellectual antagonists work peacefully next to each other in reading rooms. It is legitimate and in our nation’s interest that the new technology be used internationally, both by the private sector to promote economic enterprise and by the public sector to promote democratic institutions.”

I like the concepts he sets forth. But what if people don’t use these resources? (Maybe they will be too addicted to online games such as Everquest or Cyworld to notice that the world’s knowledge is now available free of charge.) Or what if they use them, but they spend the majority of their time with less important texts?

Mark Twain said, “He who does not read good books has no advantage over he who cannot read them.” (I first saw this quote in the humanities building at BYU in the 1980s, on a t-shirt!)

Henry David Thoreau said, “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”

How will the world know which of the millions of books are actually the best?

We must have, as Jeffrey Holland said, individuals who are “educated, spiritual and wise” who will “sort and sift and prioritize” the knowledge found in those millions of books.

Craig Newmark, founder of Craig’s List, announced recently that he plans to launch a “wisdom of the crowds” approach to news journalism.

I believe similar projects will be launched on the heels of all these book digitization projects. But a serious problem occurs if the crowds are not “educated, spiritual and wise.”

If the crowds who rate and prioritize the books are “ignorant, sensual, and foolish” instead of “educated, spiritual and wise” then the books that get promoted will not be the “best books in every field” but will be the equivalent of modern fast food — appealing but not satisfying and definitely not healthy.

Isaiah, perhaps the most quoted of all ancient prophets, describes what happens when people close their eyes to what true prophets say and to the knowledge contained in the most important books. He says that fall into a “deep sleep” and they fight against what is good. And that is never satisfying:

“It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite”

Isaiah talked about the importance of a single book that would come forth that would bring people out of darkness and increase their joy.

So which of the millions of books ever written can do this? Which are the most important books for people young and old to read, to study, and to contemplate? Which books contain truth that can lead to true happiness and to peace and prosperity?

Which books in every field of human knowledge contain the most truth and will help someone advance in his/her chosen field? And which are basically a waste of time?

I have about 3,000 books in my personal library.

A few have changed my life (most especially, “Love is the Killer App” by Tim Sanders.) A few have dramatically increased my business knowledge and success (such as “Net.gain” and “Designing Web Usability”). And a few have given me tremendous insights into how the world works (such as “Linked”.)

Some have given me heroes and role models that I want to pattern my life after. (“Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky made me want to live a life of goodness and purity like Alyosha.)

But many of the books have not been worth the time I took to read them.

I am anxious to find a way to tap into the wisdom of the “educated, spiritual, and wise” crowds (I hope there are enough people like that to constitute a crowd!) and to empower them to provide the world with prioritized access to the most important human knowledge.

I don’t think there should ever be a single reading list for everyone. Every individual has different talents and interests. So there should be thousands of reading lists compiled through the suggestions of the happiest and most successful people alive.

I look forward to collaborating with others on this project.

P.S. By the way, I happen to know the book that Isaiah was referring to. If you want a free copy, just send me an email (paulballenATyahoo.com) with your name and mailing address, and I’ll ship one out to you. :)

Hitwise vs. Comscore

I am going to subscribe to either Hitwise or Comscore in the next couple of weeks. For many years I used Media Metrix, Nielsen Netratings and then Comscore. I liked all of them, but in the end I used Comscore most because its data covered the top 10,000 sites each month.

Hitwise covers 500,000 sites in 160 industries. I’ve never used it before, but I’m tempted to use it.

Has anyone out there used both Comscore and Hitwise? If so, can I talk with you and ask you about the relative strengths and weaknesses?