Are You Ready to Take Flight with Prime Air?

One of the segments on ‘60 Minutes’ last Sunday night was an interview with Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.  The interview was pretty standard fare, until Bezos made an announcement to Charlie Rose that he had a new initiative to reveal.  The new initiative is to

amazon-prime-airdeliver certain packages to Amazon customers with drones — possibly reducing product shipping time to as little as 30 minutes.

For example, go ahead and click the BUY button for the new Kindle, then make a cup of tea for yourself and when you are done drinking your tea, go out your front door and pick up your new Kindle that was delivered to you by a drone sometime over the last thirty minutes. This scenario is an extremely disruptive concept to standard-fare delivery.

What type of product?  The product(s) would have to be 5 lbs or less which currently represents 80%+ of Amazon’s deliveries.  The customer’s delivery address would need to be within a 10 mile radius of an Amazon distribution center.

A drone?  The delivery system Bezos described in his interview was an octocopter which uses a lithium polymer battery.  One of the big benefits, in addition to expediency, is the green solution provided by the drones, therefore reducing the need for fossil-fuel burning delivery trucks.

The props on the octocopter are fixed-pitch and the motors are attached rigidly to the structure so control is provided by software which throttles the engines to move the aircraft. The feedback loop has to be very sophisticated to insure that the flight plan is achieved.

Projected implementation?  Not before 2015 or a date after the FAA delivers their requirements for unmanned aerial vehicles.

Considerations?  Safety is the primary driver.  How do you build enough redundancy to insure the drone gets to the proper coordinates and returns to the distribution center.  How about exogenous variables such as weather, software glitches, hardware malfunctions, customer delivery receptacles and crowded airspace?  I am sure that most of these issues are addressable.

Jeff Bezos and Amazon don’t get into a business without having a thoughtful plan to move Amazon into a position of market leader.  Bezos realizes that the next great company is always “just around the corner” and without consumer trust and product innovation, Amazon can be replaced.  Clearly, the concept of Prime Air meets the innovation requirement but there will be much competition in this space as the primary delivery companies (ie, UPS, FedEx) are not going stand by idly and let Amazon gut their business.

A Bill to Fight the Patent Troll

“Stop patent trolls, join the fight.”

Patent trolls secure patents and use them aggressively to leverage monetary settlements from unsuspecting businesses while never creating or selling anything themselves.  That is, their patent-troll4contribution to the nation’s GDP is zero.  The patent troll throws a wide net making broad claims of infringement based on sketchy or limited substance.  They are single-handedly killing innovation in the United States and cost small and medium-sized $25 to $30 billion annually.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and he and his bi-partisan coalition crafted the Innovation Act which is bill (HR 3309) to thwart the legal playbook of the patent troll.  A troll’s greatest leverage is the cost of litigation as a threat to demand and extract a quick settlement from the defendant.  Usually they start with their smaller targets and settle for pennies on the dollar.  There is a two-fold strategy with this method: 1) begin the validation process with a settlement, and 2) use the settlement to fund on-going litigation expenses.

The bill is designed to curtail patent troll lawsuits by making a number of changes to how patents are litigated. Below are the key components of the Innovation Act from Rep. Goodlatte’s press release dated November 20, 2013:  

Key Components of the Innovation Act: (Text from Rep. Goodlatte’s press release).

• Target Abusive Patent Litigation: The bill targets abusive patent litigation behavior and not specific entities with the goal of preventing individuals from taking advantage of gaps in the system to engage in litigation extortion.  It does not attempt to eliminate valid patent litigation.

• Protects the Patent System: The patent system is integral to U.S. competitiveness.  This legislation does not diminish or devalue patent rights in any way.

• Increases Transparency: This legislation includes heightened pleading standards and transparency provisions. Requiring parties to do a bit of due diligence up front before filing an infringement suit is just plain common sense. It not only reduces litigation expenses, but saves the court’s time and resources. Greater transparency and information is a good thing and it makes our patent system stronger.

• Modernizes Fee Shifting: The legislation includes a modernized version of Section 285 fee shifting that is fair, clear and will ensure consistent judicial determinations.

• Provides Greater Clarity: The legislation provides for more clarity surrounding initial discovery, case management, joinder and the common law doctrine of customer stays.  The bill works hand-in-hand with the procedures and practices of the Judicial Conference and the courts.

• Small Business Education: The bill provides for small business education and outreach by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

HR 3309 has the normal legislative “trip.”  It first needs to make its way out of Committee to the House floor for a vote.  Assuming the House supports the bill, it still needs to be introduced by Harry Reid (Senate Majority Leader) and voted on by the Senate before it gets to the President’s desk.  This all seems a bit daunting given the recent ineptness of our politicians to do their jobs.

I do believe patent trolls are in the apolitical “bucket” so maybe this proposed legislation can bring parties together to upgrade the legal environment when it comes to this extortionist behavior.

GameAnalytics: Getting the Numbers Right with Unity.

204655_GameAnalytics_LogoGameAnalytics, a software startup, has just received a big franchise boost in the video gaming space.

GameAnalytics is located in Copenhagen, raised $2.5 million in the 1Q13, and is assisting developers with in-game metrics.  Unity is the leading development platform for creating video games (with 400,000 monthly active developers) and will now include the GameAnalytics software in all new releases of Unity’s game engine software.  A developer can find it at the Unity Asset Store.

This will be especially beneficial for small to medium-sized game developers who don’t have the bandwidth and/or financial resources to set up their own database to track and measure user behavior and experience.

Imagine this: The first or second level of a game is too difficult and the new user is turned off and  never comes back to the game; or, the monetization opportunities are not calibrated correctly and it results in few or no in-game purchases.  Understanding in-game play and behavior based on hard facts is critical to a game’s success.  

Yes, quality content is the primary driver but the ability to measure and understand what the in-game experience is a close second.   An objective understanding may allow a developer to modify or revise the video game, ultimately moving the “success” needle in the right direction. This may include finding and fixing software bugs, maximizing monetization opportunities, fine-tuning game design or making sure there is an overall plan to insure quality.

GameAnalytics has moved from a freemium model to a FREE model for the developer, so the inclusion of the software with the Unity game engine adds all kinds of value (with little downside risk) for the developer and ultimately the consumer.

Some of the features are pre-set to match the industry’s standard metrics, including the various per user stats.  The software also provides insight into cohorts which can get very detailed (ie, time-to-first occurrence for a unique event in the game).  I also like the funnel analysis which allows you to measure the player’s moves and where there might be a friction point which the developer can refine.  Finally, in the browser version, you can literally “see” the user’s experience with the aid of a heat map.  This gives a developer insight into how the user wants to play the game.  

Hopefully the user’s heatmap or “footsteps” match up with the way the developer envisioned playing the game.  If not, GameAnalytics provides the developer a real-time opportunity to make adjustments that better meet the gamer’s desired experience.


logo_mdCanadian shoppers whose merchants have a relationship with FinanceIT don’t need to pay out-of-pocket for purchases.  FinanceIT has built a credit platform that allows a consumer to finance certain purchases at the point of sale, possibly at a better interest rate than their credit cards and definitely with more payment options.

FinanceIT’s clients are vendors who sell vehicles, home renovations, health offerings, or retail products to the consumer.  The business model focuses on making the financing of the product available to the consumer at the point of sale so that there isn’t any excuse not to purchase if the buyer is feeling a little light in the wallet.  The vendor can offer financing deals which delay payment for 3, 6, or 12 months at an interest rate as low as 7.13% — financing which may be much more attractive than credit card financing with a 30-day settlement and/or financing starting at 14 or 15 percent.

It was announced today that FinanceIT just raised $13 million in a Series A round to apply towards their application rollout in the United States.  They are a Toronto-based company that has managed to write $500 million plus in loans with 2,500 vendors since their inception in 2011.

To make the credit process as frictionless as possible the consumer requirements need to be simple and easy to secure.  Clearly, the key driver in any financing/credit business is the consumer’s credit score. The score is the determining factor for the interest rate and any of the other structuring features of the loan, including amortization, payment deferral and length of loan.  Once the credit inputs are determined and approved the vendor can receive payment in one business day.

Ideally, a win/win.  The vendor is pleased to make a sale without retaining the consumer credit risk and the consumer is pleased that they have more financing options for their purchase.  I didn’t notice who retains the credit risk for FinanceIT, but wouldn’t it be great to see them create a two-way peer lending market and they could lay off the credit risk on a peer lender and serve as a matchmaking tech platform?

Dreamforce 2013

df-logoThe Dreamforce ‘13 event kicked off yesterday in San Francisco and runs through Thursday, November 21st.

After working with their customer relationship management (CRM) software product for about three months in 2011, I decided to attend their Cloudforce event at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York in November 2011.  At that point, I knew of Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, but I had never seen him live or watched any of his presentations on YouTube.  As is customary for these big events, Marc is the keynote speaker and his presentation (both on stage and as he walks through the aisles of the entire event) is two hours and during that time he is marketing Salesforce to the audience using stats, experiences, trends, enterprise collaborators while all the time weaving it all into very effective storytelling.  

I found those two hours inspiring since his vision and message were both current and forward thinking.  What I mean by that, is that the product roll-out for Cloudforce (Chatter) was timely and matched off with the consumer’s workflow needs at that time.  Also, his vision addressed workflow needs in the very near future and the fact that Salesforce was evolving into a cloud based, mobile and social enterprise software.  Additionally, the APIs would be a focus so that developers could quickly and easily build apps to interface with Salesforce.

The Cloudforce ‘11 (a one day event) had the right side room of the Javits with an overflow room imbedded in the expo. The reported audience size was approximately 10,000, which at the time I thought was a very good turnout for the event.  Two years later, it’s reported that the Dreamforce 2013 will have 150,000 attendants during their four day event and the Salesforce team will spend a significant amount of time on Salesforce 1.

Salesforce 1 allows the user to connect across all their platforms with a significant emphasis placed on mobile.  A sales or business development professional can head off to a meeting with their smartphone or tablet and quickly view their day; dial into a call or meeting; stay on top of daily activity during the course of the day; collaborate with managers and colleagues as meetings take place and new events unfold; update forecasts and recalibrate sales growth on a real time basis.  A great set of marketing and management tools at your fingertips to create transparency, collaboration, knowledge and better productivity.  Just as important, the software allows a manager to develop a culture that includes best practices and mitigates the scenario which includes opaque customer detail/information and feedback often leading to poor decision making by all involved.

Salesforce has had a big run this year with their stock up 30+% percent and much of this movement since June.  Compare this move to Oracle’s appreciation which is about 5% for the year.  I wonder if Oracle was to hold a party, could they get 150,000 guests to attend?  Although, if I was putting money to work, I would probably put a majority of it to work with Oracle given their lackluster performance this year and their ability to print money with their database solutions.