awe.sm News

That there may be the last awe.sm pun I make on this blog, because today we’ve announced that Unified has acquired awe.sm!

Team awe.sm toast by Jonathan Strauss, on Flickr

Every opening line I originally came up with for this post was clichéd as hell (“proud to announce…”, “ending one chapter, beginning a new one…”, etc). I guess the reason why these posts are so full of clichés is that it’s common to express a lot of the same emotions in these circumstances:

Pride – It’s impossible not to be nostalgic at a time like this. Just 5 years ago, awe.sm was little more than whiteboard sketches and notes on napkins. I once read a great blog post about the importance of celebrating the small victories in a startup. And when you add up all those victories – from every incredible hire, to the customer wins, to the amazing investors who backed us – this moment is the culmination of all the fantastic and gratifying moments that have led to it.

Excitement – Unified is an extremely impressive company. As a first-time entrepreneur, I appreciate all too well the value of the experienced leadership team Unified has in Sheldon, Jason, and Calvin. In our conversations with Unified, there were 3 specific things that convinced me this deal was the best way to take what we had built to the next level:

  1. Their understanding of and appreciation for the power of the technology we’ve developed at awe.sm;
  2. Their proven sales and marketing machine running at full speed as we were just assembling ours; and
  3. Our shared vision of delivering data-driven marketing solutions across owned, earned, and paid social media.

What sealed the deal for me was talking with David and Jeff, co-founders of PageLever which was acquired by Unified last year. Over a year after the acquisition, the PageLever technology and team are flourishing inside Unified and that is a big part of the reason we think it’s a great home for awe.sm.

Gratitude – I am most proud of and grateful to the world-class team we assembled. Not only because of their amazing talent and commitment but because of the incredible (and incredibly enjoyable) culture they created. To Laurie, Jeremiah, Bennett, Jonathan, Randal, Tim, Beth, Mason, Tilly, Andrew, Cole, Bryon, Johnny, Curtis, Ginevra, Jeremy, and Fred, thank you for everything you’ve done to make awe.sm so much more than I could have ever imagined! I am still in awe of the investors who have supported us in every possible way on this sometimes bumpy road: Mark Suster @ Upfront Ventures; Jerry Neumann @ Neu Venture Capital (best VC site evar!); Jennifer Lum & Peter Wernau @ Apricot Capital; Taylor Davidson & Darren Herman @ kbs+ Ventures; Howard Lindzon & Tom Peterson @ Social Leverage; and Ryan McIntyre @ Foundry Group. Finally, I want to thank every awe.sm customer for trusting us and helping us improve every day. One of the key reasons we’re doing this deal is that we believe we can deliver you even better products and services as part of Unified, and we’re excited to dig in and start showing you what we can do together. As always, you can reach us at support [at] awe.sm with any questions or feedback.

Replacing Oneself as CEO

I am very happy to announce that Fred McIntyre has joined awe.sm, the company I founded and have led for the last 4 years, as CEO (read more about it on TechCrunch). My new role is Head of Product Development in which I will continue to lead product, strategy, and engineering.

This is at once one of the hardest and best things I’ve ever done.

There’s a lot of great writing out there on hiring non-founder CEOs from a business perspective: if you don’t want to have to do it, do these things (I definitely didn’t do enough of them); if you think you might need to do it, think about these things; and if you’re going to do it, try to do it like this. So what I really want to talk about is the personal side of this process from my perspective as the founding CEO.

I wish I could say this was my idea, but frankly I wasn’t self-aware enough to come up with it. To be an entrepreneur I believe one must have a somewhat irrational belief in your own capabilities, otherwise you’d never be dumb enough to start a company. Regardless of any perceived glamor, most entrepreneurs I know will tell you that starting and running a company is fucking hard and there’s often more misery than joy. But there’s just something broken in us that makes the prospect of doing anything else seem even worse. For those of us with this particular defect, I think the Peace Corps slogan sums it up: entrepreneurship is “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” The thing in me that drove me to quit my job, move in with my parents, and start awe.sm is the same thing that kept me going through incredible stress and the lowest of lows to make it to our Series A and it’s the same thing that kept me from asking for the help it was clear to everyone around me that I needed.

I put hiring a CEO in the same category as taking an acqui-hire or just closing up shop and moving on — things I would think about at 4am in the office on those darkest nights when I’d have a bout of sobriety about the insanity I’d turned my life into. And ultimately, things that represented the one unacceptable option motivating me to push even further beyond my limits I’d long surpassed: failure. In the early days, the only way for me to keep awe.sm from failing was to tie my fate with the company’s. If awe.sm failed, I failed. But as we switched from lean startup to growth company, I didn’t fully realize how making my ego a shareholder went from being necessary for survival to being a limitation on what we could achieve.

Fortunately, I have an amazing Board that cares about me as a person as well as an investment. Mark, Ian, and Ryan took the time to help me see why something needed to change, and, to their great credit, gave me the decision of what to do. I will never forget the emotional tornado (roller-coaster doesn’t do it justice) of that day. After 3 and a half years of fusing my self-worth with the success of the company in the crucible of startup survival, it was impossible to tear them apart without pain. But while my first reaction was disappointment and failure, it was almost immediately washed away by a wave of relief. I knew everything they were saying was true, arguably better than they did, and I knew change was inevitable, but I had no idea how stressful and exhausting maintaining my internal reality distortion field had been until they gave me permission to turn it off.

The basic choice we had in front of us was to sell the company or hire a CEO. We had plenty of money in the bank, a great engineering team in an impossible hiring market, and real valuable hard-to-build technology, so we were in a better position for a sale than many acqui-hires. Personally, I still owned 30% of the company outright and selling would have kept me from having to give up the CEO role. On the flip-side, we would be starting from scratch on the CEO search and it would ultimately mean signing up for a Series B (i.e. more dilution) and several more years of awe.sm. The Board said they would support either decision, but only I could make it. Talk about a gut-check!

Guess which one I picked :-). It was far from an easy decision, I agonized over it for weeks and got advice from a lot of smart and experienced people (thanks everyone!). I made the choice and told the Board; they asked me if I was sure and I told them I was; I had second thoughts and talked about it with a bunch more people; the Board asked me again if I was sure, I said I wasn’t but I was committed. And all this was before we even started recruiting a CEO! I ran the search process, screened all the candidates, and ultimately had the final say on who we hired.

I chose not to sell because I believe the opportunity for awe.sm is too big to ignore, and I chose Fred because he shares that belief. When Fred accepted his offer, Mark Suster said that he thought this would be the best year of my career. I hope he’s right, but I’m at least certain it will be the best year of my life since starting the company.

You’re more than the Fucking Janitor: Thoughts on Startup Leadership

Last month, I had the honor of participating in the inaugural Foundry Group portfolio CEO summit where we had an enlightening discussion on leadership. To kick-off the conversation, one of the other CEOs volunteered the story of a time he felt he failed as a leader: he had a disagreement with some of the engineers on his team about the complexity of a given feature; and when their conversations reached an impasse, he took matters into his own hands and coded the feature himself.

I found the most interesting part of the ensuing discussion to be the disagreement over whether this CEO’s act of digging in and coding the feature himself was a leadership success or failure. We didn’t do a formal survey, but the group appeared to be divided into two camps: one that felt he should have focused on solving the communication and process (and possibly staffing) issues that prevented his team from executing as he desired; and the other that saw value in the example he set by showing he was capable of and prepared to do what he asked of others.

Earlier this week I read Zach Bruhnke’s excellent post You’re not the CEO – you’re the Fucking Janitor, and it took my mind back to that discussion about what good leadership looks like in a startup. My answer: it depends. It seemed to me that the folks at the summit who felt this CEO failed by doing instead of managing were leaders of more mature companies, while the ones who admired his leadership by example tended to be running earlier stage startups. As someone running a company that had recently raised our Series A and was growing from a team of 5 in January to 14 today, I found myself agreeing with both sides of the debate.

For a boot-strapped or even seed-funded startup, I think Zach’s post is spot on. The “CEO” in Zach’s story is a total douche, and my business cards say “Co-founder” precisely because calling myself the Chief Executive over 4 of my friends made me think of Yertle the Turtle. My dad always told me “the fish stinks from the head”, which is just his graphic way of saying great leaders lead by example. In my relatively short leadership career thus far, I’ve taken this to heart and always jump at the opportunity to do things myself.

In addition to the mutual respect and motivation Zach mentions in his post, one of the greatest advantages I’ve found in this approach is the intimate understanding a leader attains of how things are done within their team. Across the many failures of leadership I’ve observed (I was at Yahoo! for 4 years 😉 ), there’s a recurring theme of the leader being too removed from the actual doing. Especially in the technology world, the means of production can be just as important as the output. I can’t tell you the number of product and business leaders I’ve dealt with who treat engineering like a commodity instead of a potential competitive advantage. You only need to look to the world’s most valuable company to see what great supply chain management (i.e. caring how the sausage gets made) can do for your business. And when you’re a software company, every architectural decision your team makes has a bearing on essential business considerations like performance, reliability, time-to-market, and agility in responding to new threats and opportunities. That’s why awe.sm is, above all else, an engineering-driven organization (and looking for even more great engineers 🙂 ).

But in a later stage company, the leadership challenge is greater because you need to figure out more scalable ways of achieving these same goals. There was one particular line of Zach’s post that stuck out for me in this regard:

If you want to be a CEO in the sense that you dream of then you should remember to be the Fucking Janitor too.

A couple months after raising our Series A, I was washing dishes in the office and caught myself feeling self-satisfied because here I was, CEO of a company that had just raised millions of dollars, doing the dishes. I thought about my dad’s smelly fish saying and how he’d be proud of me. Then I thought about our investors and what they’d think of this…and it struck me they’d be pissed. Here I was, CEO of a company in which they’d just invested millions of dollars, doing the dishes instead of the dozens of other things only I could be doing to make their investment successful.

In the few months since then, my leadership focus has shifted. I still do the dishes when it’s my turn; when AWS shits the bed at some inhuman hour, I’m in our IRC room doing what little I can to help; and I always want to understand the gory details about why we made one architectural decision over another even if I wouldn’t know how to implement either of them myself. I am proud to continue to be a colleague to my team above all else. But leadership in a larger organization requires more than that. Our goal is to achieve on a scale bigger than what one person can achieve alone, and that means the leader needs to lead not just do. Doing is good, but when it turns you into a micro-manager or takes you away from leading, it can be counter-productive.

Delegation is hard. I’m finding delegating well to be much more challenging than doing things myself. Leading purely by example just requires effort and a willingness to do things that aren’t fun or glamorous, and as the leader you’re usually the most incentivized to get those things done. But effective delegation requires much more than mere will, it is a skill set developed with patience and learning and painful trial and error. It requires finding great people, training them in the skills you need them to have, motivating them to share your goals, empowering them with the resources and information to be successful, trusting them to do their jobs, and then giving them feedback on how to improve. I have come to believe my primary job as a leader is to enable the members of our team to deliver what the company needs from them, and that’s a lot harder and even less glamorous than being the Fucking Janitor.

Entertainment-as-a-Service

[Cross-posted from my company blog.]

I just got back from a really fun (and delicious) lunch with Peter of Pantless Knights, who is in LA working on a hilarious new video, and one of the main things we discussed was the idea of Entertainment-as-a-Service. The term is a reference to the concept of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), which is a business model generally contrasted with the conventional packaged or ‘shrinkwrap’ software model. Essentially, SaaS is a subscription business and packaged software is a retail business.

The entertainment industry is a retail business. Books, movies, tv shows, music are almost universally sold as one-off purchases. But, those things are just the packaging and the people selling them to you are just middle-men. The business of entertainment (not to be confused with the entertainment *industry*) is fundamentally a marketplace of attention between fans and content creators — fans have a finite supply of attention for which content creators are competing. So, then what is the entertainment industry? To use a very relevant analogy, it is the collection of intermediary businesses (i.e. publishers, studios, networks, labels) that have been acting like investment bankers, taking the raw materials of talent and creativity and packaging them up in a form they know how to sell (i.e. retail) and commanding a big slice of profit along the way. Entertainment doesn’t want to be a retail business, and that is the fundamental essence of the disruption the Internet has unleashed on the entertainment industry.

[Clarification: For the sake of this discussion, I’m using the term ‘content creator’ to represent those who add unique creative talent to the production process. As my dad pointed out, content creation is rarely a solo effort (most notably in film production, which can involve hundreds of individual contributors) to which studios, networks, labels, and publishers often contribute substantial value. But as those contributions are opaque and thus interchangeable as far as the consumer is concerned, I am excluding those who make them from the class I refer to as ‘content creators’ in this post. Otherwise said, even though the sound engineer plays a crucial role in creating the album, no one buys it based on *who* the sound engineer was.]

When you think about what elements of the entertainment business technology has really undermined, it’s nothing more than the packaging — the time slots and release dates and viewing windows and region codes that are artificial constructs of these middle-men trying to slice-and-dice the content into as many tranches as possible to squeeze out every last cent of profit. Just like the investment bankers and their CDOs fragmented and obscured the connections between investors and their investments, so have the studios, networks, publishers, and labels introduced complexity into the connections between content creators and their audiences. While that complexity, and the companies who created it, may have been a necessity in an era of technologically inferior marketing and distribution systems, they are simply market inefficiencies in the Internet age.

So, what is the difference between retail and subscription when it comes to entertainment? In a recent post on my personal blog about SaaS vs shrinkwrap software, I wrote:

The business model of packaged software invites feature bloat, because it’s upgrade driven and you need to continually find ways to justify why Thingamajig 2009 Pro Edition™ is so much better than Thingamajig 2008 Pro Edition™. Software as a Service businesses have a much different (and arguably greater) challenge, they need to continue to create value for their customers month after month….So, you end up with a much more customer-centric product…and a vendor who is truly interested in addressing your customer needs.

The first priority of a retail business is to maximize sales, building brand loyalty and repeat business may be means to that end but they always take a back-seat to whatever else will drive more sales. Whereas in a subscription business, customer retention (and thus customer satisfaction) is always top priority, even above new customer acquisition. So if a studio believes they can get a lot of people to see a crappy movie by spending more on marketing and less on quality, they will (and do, again, and again, and again…). Because all you’re buying from them is the packaging, they know you aren’t really paying attention to whether it’s a Fox or Warner Brothers or Paramount film (do you buy your cereal based on who made the box it comes in?). But, a director would rather disown a bad film than endorse the studio releasing something that doesn’t meet his standards and his fans’ expectations. This is because the director knows that his relationship with his fans is a subscription business, and if he disappoints them he will be unable to continue exchanging his content for their attention in the future. The studios understand this too — they don’t give Tom Cruise $25M (plus a cut of the gross) per movie because his acting skills bring $25M of quality to the screen, they do it because he has more than $25M in ticket, DVD, and merchandise sales worth of fans.

Entertainment is naturally a subscription business, and the Internet returns it to its natural state. The content creators who thrive online are those who understand this and focus on the ongoing satisfaction of their customers (see Ze Frank, Michael Buckley, Chris Leavins). The level of customer satisfaction these creators deliver is really only possible on the Internet because they can go direct-to-consumer without need of the middle-men and their packaging. These creators publish in all forms — video, photos, blogging, micro-blogging, music. They do not see themselves constrained by the legacy dividing lines of the entertainment industry, their goal is to entertain their audience by any and all means available. There is no distinction for them between primary and ancillary content, they are 360° entertainment brands. The other thing that has made these creators so successful online is their direct interaction with their customers. The best your most engaged fans can do offline is give you their personal attention (and the money that comes with it) and try to recruit others to do so as well. But online, they can interact with you and become part of the show. Empowering your customers is the surest way to make them even more engaged. As I wrote in another recent post on my personal blog:

Bringing your customers into the product development process has the dual benefits of helping you build better and more customer-centric products and making your customers your most passionate sales people (because after all, it’s their product too).

So, the Internet enables these creators to spend more time listening to their fans and creating new content they’ll enjoy while outsourcing the marketing to the community for free. This is the exact opposite of the offline retail model in which the studio takes money out of production budgets to put it into marketing campaigns. The ability to establish deeper relationships with their fans also allows online content creators to attain higher average attention per customer (ARPU) than is possible in the retail world, thereby making it easier to build more value by going deeper with a smaller audience.

To be clear, I’m not trying to say the only business model for content on the Internet is a recurring subscription fee. The ‘subscription business’ to which I’m referring is more the theoretical exchange of value between content creators and their fans, which can and will take many forms — including selling packaged goods. I’m also not saying that the online entertainment market is solely the domain of Internet-only content creators. In fact, I believe the Internet is most powerful as an entertainment marketplace when the quality and reputation of a historically offline content creator is freed of the constraints of the legacy packaged goods business model. Take for example Josh Freese, who gets extra points for using this freedom precisely to illustrate the absurdity of the conventional retail approach.

And now, I leave you with the profound product of the coming entertainment revolution:

P.S. Hat tips to Ian Rogers for the marketplace of attention thinking and Umair Haque for the marketing vs quality dichotomy.

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SaaS vs Shrinkwrap or Never trust a company not on Twitter

While eating lunch today, I started to think about the growing complexity of my company‘s expenses and decided it might be a good time to start looking at accounting solutions. The fact that my research began with a tweet is indication enough that I probably don’t fit anyone’s average consumer mold. But, I think some of the insights that came out of my experience are pretty fundamental and potentially extend beyond the ‘early adopter’ echo chamber.

First, I started down the conventional route by checking out market (and marketing) leader QuickBooks. Through some quick web searching, I found a few authoritative sounding comparisons that pegged QuickBooks as the best value for basic users (we’re just at the lower bound of even needing this stuff) — with the notable exception of the Mac version, which apparently gets less product development love than the Windows one. At $180, QuickBooks wasn’t really that daunting on the financial cost front. But, I was already starting to cringe on the usability/time cost side.

What I found myself really wanting was a web app (like Mint or Wesabe) for business accounting — something with a lightweight interface for connecting and organizing data from my financial services providers all in one place. And while I was researching products that might fit this bill, I started to think about why I had this innate preference for a web app (SaaS) over shrinkwrapped software. The business model of packaged software invites feature bloat, because it’s upgrade driven and you need to continually find ways to justify why Thingamajig 2009 Pro Edition™ is so much better than Thingamajig 2008 Pro Edition™. Software as a Service businesses have a much different (and arguably greater) challenge, they need to continue to create value for their customers month after month. Sometimes that value comes in the form of new features, but it doesn’t *have* to. So, you end up with a much more customer-centric product (what customers *know* they want after using it, not what they *think* they want before buying it — as humans are notoriously bad predictors of our own happiness) and a vendor who is truly interested in addressing your customer needs. So, unless there is an element of the problem a given software product is trying to solve that inherently benefits from the advantages of the desktop (i.e. local storage, access to the file system/peripherals, superior performance), I’d rather have the SaaS version.

The other thing that was on my mind when doing this evaluation was my incredibly positive recent experience on Twitter with the CEO’s of iPlotz and Balsamiq, both of which happen to be SaaS products. I realized that it really spoiled me and there’s no way I’m ever going back to the old regime of captive audiences and passive customers. So, my new rule is “never trust a company not on Twitter.” Now, that’s a bit reductionist — and, in Intuit’s defense, they are actually on Twitter (hi Alison 🙂 ). The real point is that today’s customer service equation needs to include how responsive the company is to your new product requirements and feature requests, not just how quickly they fix something when it’s broken or answer a question when you’re too lazy to read the instructions. As much as I appreciate Intuit’s presence on Twitter, I highly doubt Alison is able to change Intuit’s release schedule to get that new feature I want out to me sooner. By virtue of the packaged software business model, she is not adequately empowered to address my customer needs.

Through my research and a very handy post on my friend Leonard’s blog (thanks for the tip Carrie), I found two SaaS solutions for small business accounting: LessAccounting and Xero. They’re both about the same price ($~25/month), and Xero seems to have a slightly superior feature set (automatic syncing with your online accounts is a biggie). But, LessAccounting clearly had the edge in customer interaction. LessAccounting has a very active corporate Twitter account and both founders have personal accounts, they use Get Satisfaction and there are 4 topics on their Get Satisfaction page that have been updated in the last 24 hrs (I also checked out the activity on the Get Satisfaction accounts of both founders), and, last but not least, they have a sense of humor (be it a slightly mean one 🙂 ). Xero has a very active corporate blog and they seem to be quite responsive to their customers’ comments. But as a prospective customer, I would really like to have some better ways to interact with Xero than sending them an email or leaving a comment on their blog. (Update: Phillip from Xero responded in the comments that they do in fact have a Twitter account and an in-product feedback mechanism.) Get Satisfaction and User Voice are both great names, because when you use their products as a company that’s exactly what you do: give your customers a voice and the satisfaction that it’s being heard.

When shopping for SaaS, you’re choosing a partner in innovation. So, the future direction of a product is maybe an even more important consideration than the current feature set. And while LessAccounting can surely replicate Xero’s features, can Xero replicate LessAccounting’s customer-centricity? They both offer 30 day free trials, so I’m going to try both and make a decision in a month. And who knows, at $180 for QuickBooks Pro I may decide shrinkwrapped software is the more sensible way to go this time around (but, that doesn’t mean I have to like it 😉 ).

Update: Wow! This is starting to freak me out. I write these things to capture the distillation of the things I see out on the interwebs that I like and dislike, mostly for my personal benefit in thinking about my own business. I don’t do so really anticipating to hear back from the companies about whom I’m writing, but I guess I’ll just have to get used to this whole blogging thing 😉 .

Thanks to Phillip from Xero and Allan from LessAccounting for your responses in the comments and for engaging in the conversation. Phillip corrected me that Xero does have a Twitter account, which I updated in situ above.

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Happyjoel on the CBS Evening News

Cross-posted from the Snowball Factory blog

Last week, our friend (and first client) Joel Moss Levinson, aka Happyjoel, appeared in a CBS Evening News with Katie Couric segment called Cashing In on YouTube (watch it below). For Joel, this follows an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, a profile in the New York Times, and (our personal favorite) being named an AccessHollywood.com Rising Star. As you can see in the clip below, the majority of this coverage has been driven by the novelty of Joel’s success. He’s a guy who subsists entirely by making amusing music videos for products for which he has no personal affinity — what news producer wouldn’t love this story?!


Watch CBS Videos Online

For us though, the real story isn’t the wackiness of Joel’s success but rather how he has achieved it. Of course, having the ability to come up with witty lyrics about how awesome watermelons are and the time and energy to scour the interwebs for brands looking to crowd-source their marketing are necessary, but they’re not sufficient. Michael Buckley, the other online video personality covered in the CBS News segment, told the NY Times “I was spending 40 hours a week on YouTube for over a year before I made a dime.” Like Michael, Joel does a lot more than just what you see on screen. Arguably, making the videos is the easy part (at least for someone like Joel) — the real challenge has been building and cultivating the loyal fan-base (or as Joel calls it, his “contest voting army”) that has made him such a newsworthy phenomenon.

As of this writing, Joel has:

Each of these relationship channels has different strengths and weaknesses, and we have achieved a good measure of success using them in concert through best practices and a substantial time commitment. But, the system is far from perfect. In addition to the redundant work required to build and maintain relationships through all these various channels, it is very difficult to identify and de-duplicate the individuals across them, and it is basically impossible to have a cohesive view of what is going on in your fan universe.

While 800 lbs brands like Britney Spears or 50 Cent have enough clout to ask their fans to sign up for new services, the rest of us need to find effective ways to reach our potential fans where they already live online. YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, MySpace, and other popular social media services provide access to their huge existing audiences, but the relationships you build through them have to be on their terms. We’ve learned from experience in the trenches with clients like Joel and Handsome Donkey, and we’re hard at work on a solution that gives independent online media brands the best of both worlds: access to existing social media audiences with greater control over the fan relationships it generates. So, stay tuned!

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Congratulations to the Yahoo! TV Widgets team!

Last week, my former team at Yahoo! launched Yahoo! TV Widgets to some great press coverage. This is a project that was underway before I left, and drew heavily on the work and people of the Konfabulator/Y! Widgets team. It goes all the way back to the original Konfabulator team of Arlo Rose, Perry Clarke, and Ed Voas, who first popularized the term “Widget” for consumers as “whatever you want it to be” (much to the chagrin of Marketing & PR folks and proud mothers of people who work on Widgets everywhere 😉 ). They pioneered the concepts of open developer platforms and mash-ups that are all the Web 2.0 rage today, they just did it on the desktop. By the time I joined the team nearly a year after Konfabulator was acquired by Yahoo!, they had built a thriving ecosystem (yes, it was a real ecosystem, so I can say that without being buzzword compliant) of thousands of independent developers and millions of users worldwide.

Yahoo! TV Widgets As we continued to build the team and grow both the user and developer bases, we began to learn and build things that we realized had much broader applicability than just Widgets for your desktop. With the help of our marketing all-stars, Brady Wood and the awesome Shan-Lyn Ma, we started to create best practices and tools for building and cultivating a community of independent developers around an open platform and helping connect them to users. This work resulted in the relaunch of the Yahoo! Widget Gallery (which, for the sake of that douche over at VentureBeat, pre-dated the iPhone App Store) and a number of other improvements for the desktop Widgets product. But, it also became an essential part of the launch of Yahoo! Mobile Widgets at CES, the TV Widget launch at IDF last week, and some other stuff that’s still in the works down in Sunnyvale. It was also a great opportunity for us Konfabulistas, many of whom got to work on some of these fun projects and some of whom even moved on to these new teams.

So, in addition to being happy for my friends, who have been working on the TV Widgets project these last few months since I left, I’m proud to see the work we started (finally) coming to fruition. Way to go guys (and girls)!

Back in Action

I’ve been a bit MIA of late, and it hasn’t just been limited to this blog — I’ve been slacking on replying to emails and other forms of electronic communications as well. To be honest, I kinda checked out the last few months since leaving Yahoo!. And it’s been great! I got in some awesome skiing in Colorado, my first trip to South America, and a couple visits to Europe, as well as a much needed chance to clear my mind and decompress a bit.

And now, I’m back. Clearing my mind was only the first step, of course. Now comes the fun part of figuring out what I want to do next. I’ve updated my resume (html, pdf), and have started exploring various opportunities. I have pretty diverse interests, so I find it hard to conjure up the ideal job description in the abstract. But, the most important things to me are finding a project about which I can be passionate and people with whom I’m excited to work. After spending nearly 4 years at a large corporation, I think I’d like to check out the start-up world a bit (the smaller, the better). But, I’m keeping a very open mind at this point. So if you come across anything cool you think might be a good fit for me, please drop me line (jonathan[at]jonathanhstrauss[dot] com). In addition, I have a couple interesting ideas of my own I’m exploring. So who knows, I might end up looking for employees instead of a job.

I’m also planning to take this time to catch up on my various backlogs that have accumulated over these past few months, including responding to emails, uploading photos to Flickr, and blogging about some of my trips. So, look forward to hearing more from me soon 🙂

Buh-bY!e

Early Morning Purple & Yellow

The week before last, I announced my plans to leave Yahoo! to those following me on Facebook and Twitter (oh yeah, I told my team in person first 😉 ), and last Tuesday, February 12 was my last day in the office. I’ve already sent out an internal farewell email, and I really appreciate the unexpected number of very kind responses. I guess I consider this post my public farewell to Yahoo!.

First of all, thank you! Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone with whom I had the pleasure to work in my nearly 4 years. I met some great people at Yahoo!, and I look forward to continuing our personal and professional relationships wherever my career may take me. A special thanks to those who took a chance on me — Gerald See, Toby Coppel, Keith Nilsson, Gerry Horkan, Marco Boerries, Dan Rosensweig, Paul Brody, and Patrick Barry. At seemingly every step in my Yahoo! career, I was an unproven quantity pushing the bounds of the responsibilities that should be reasonably entrusted to someone of my age and experience. My time at Yahoo! would not have been anywhere near as challenging, educational, and exciting without you placing your faith in me, and I hope I’ve made you proud.

By far, the most challenging and fulfilling role I held at Yahoo! was the last 20 months I spent working on the Connected Life Desktop team. We built a fantastic team, that was not only exceedingly talented and hard-working but also tremendous fun. The thing I already miss the most is the daily Widgets team 1pm lunch. Regardless of what else was going on, this was a constant bright spot in my day and reminder of why I loved my job. Thanks more than I can express to Ed Voas, Bryan Mayes, Scott Derringer, Shan-lyn Ma, Brady Wood, Laurie Voss, Matt Hackett, Rob Marquardt, Ricky Romero, Marcus Harvey, Jet Lim, Matthew Lock, Michael Galloway, Ken Neville, Sam Magnuson, Sylvio Marcondes, Kevin Driscoll, Derrick Whittle, Ashit Gandhi, Joe Morrissey, Justin Whittle, John Hayes, Steve “Dallas” Dowds, and everyone else on D-1 and in Atlanta for putting up with my shit, making me look good, and just being good people. It would be my great pleasure to work with any of you again (if you’d have me 🙂 ), and count me as a reference anytime.

As for why I left, I spent more time at Yahoo! than anywhere else in my life since elementary school — a full 13% of my 27 years on this earth — and I’ve been ready to move on for a little while. Recent events provided an opportunity for me to transition my responsibilities, and I took it. For right now, my plan is to take some time off to travel and do some of the things I love, like skiing (I’m actually writing this from Aspen 😀 ), that I haven’t been able to do as much the last few years. I’m also following Scoble’s (pretty sage, IMHO) advice on unemployment, which means I’ll be attending events and taking meetings on my travels. So if you have any interesting ideas on things I should check out, please drop me a line at jonathan[at]jonathanhstrauss[dot]com.

Yahoo! people, please keep in touch by connecting with me on Facebook and/or LinkedIn. For those interested, my travel schedule is below and I’ve started a photo set on Flickr to chronicle this little adventure. Best of luck, and keep in touch.

P.S. Oh, and can someone *please* get my photo off the investor relations site already?! 😉

Konfabulator (Yahoo! Widgets) Developer Day — June 7

Shout it from the rooftops! Or maybe just mention it on your blog (which would be much less dramatic…yet now that I think about it, probably more effective). We Konfabulistas are inviting a few lucky authors who have created at least 1 Yahoo! Widget to come visit Widgets HQ for our first-ever Developer Day.

For more details and to sign-up, click here. Space is limited, so get yer hustle on.

Very exciting news! Yahoo!’s own Douglas Crockford, one of the industry’s foremost authorities on JavaScript, will be keynoting with one of his world-famous talks on the language that is the basis of Konfabulator (i.e. JavaScript). W00t!