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Archives for: May 2013

There were 6 posts published in May 2013.

Kill the Query Letter


“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” -Shunryu Suzuki Zen Buddhism


When I first started writing about startups, I tracked the market very methodically. And by market, I mean the “flooded,” “saturated,” “ecosystem,” that we now call the “Series A Crunch.” A few months later, in June of 2012, I created a spreadsheet with over 2,000 data points. It was a completely useless spreadsheet detailing product launches, funding notices, acquisitions, stage demos, app updates, patent lawsuits, hirings, firings, – anything startup related and published in the press.


The next thing I did was show my spreadsheet to Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Ventures to get his thoughts on it. He was pretty clear on his response: “a laundry list like this isn’t very useful to me.”


Exactly. But that’s what we read every day:  a laundry list of press releases.


And there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for this laundry list – publishing today is based on an archaic system originally designed for print newspapers. The press release, as we know it today, was invented by a public relations man named Ivy Lee on October 28th, 1906 when a train owned by Pennsylvania Railroad wrecked and left more than 50 people dead.  Lee’s agency had been retained by the railroad, so he quickly issued a statement on what had transpired to the New York Times before any rumors could spread.


This is the same practice companies’ use today to communicate important matters. Problem is, everything else has changed. Anyone could cite quite a few inventions brought to market since 1906:  automobiles, planes (1903), televisions, hair dryers, computers, the internet, smartphones – but actually, the most important thing that has changed since 1906 is the reader … humans.


We now communicate in 140 characters and watch 4 billion hours of video on YouTube every month. We’ll suffer through terrible prose for erotic novels like Fifty Shades of Grey. And, there is no comparing Charles Dickens to R.R. Martin; English has evolved into two separate languages.


Book publishing is actually the perfect example of an industry which has undergone a huge transformation thanks to Jeff Bezos. Interesting enough, it used to be based off something very similar to the press release called a query letter.


To the reader, Amazon made books cheaper and more accessible – so this was a no-brainer. But to a writer, what Jeff Bezos did, which was absolutely brilliant, is he killed the query letter. This is an extremely important fact because it solves the chicken and the egg problem. We know readers want cheaper books delivered on demand, but what motivated writers to e-publish over the traditional method of publishing?


I remember a time when e-publishing was quite daunting. Every writer wanted the prestige of the publishing house label. But as the proud author of an unpublished 400 page novel, I can assure you – it was the ineffective query letter which drove writers to take matters into their own hands. The “slush pile,” as it was so affectionately called by the literary agents and publishers, offered writers a 1-2% chance of being published. This process was more strenuous than writing the actual novel. And that’s why authors were willing to try Amazon. They could circumvent the gatekeeper, connect with readers and go back to doing what they did best: writing books.


Now Amazon is a built-out marketplace. And there are a few other companies connecting the writer directly to the reader such as Wattpad. In fact, the engagement level on Wattpad is higher than Pinterest. Ponder that for a moment.


I believe these companies have done so well because the reader doesn’t care about the publisher. Similarly, the trend has changed in journalism and we now get our breaking news from Twitter – we don’t care about the reporter. We want this direct access because we can. That’s the beauty of technology. It should cut out the middle man; the gatekeeper. And if the journalist is the so-called gatekeeper, then the press release is an admission ticket crafted back in 1906 … which is why I really think it’s time to open up the internet.


Apple will never buy DropBox

And here is why.


DropBox is a feature and not a product. Those were the words of late Steve Jobs, sometime around 2009. I don’t know if that was a reaction of a man not getting what he wanted, but the real question here is was he right? Let’s look at what the market says. With 100 million plus users and a valuation of $4 billion, DropBox is probably the most desired “feature” ever built.


But for the sake of this article, let’s say he was right, and that DropBox is a feature indeed. Then it’s safe to assume that iCloud is the product.


iCloud was introduced in mid-2011 after Apple unsuccessfully tried to acquire DropBox.


The latest stats say that iCloud has a quarter of a billion users. That seems like a lot, and it’s certainly more than DropBox. But, hey who doesn’t want a backup of their photos. Sync of your calendar and email. Keynotes in the cloud.


Anyway, let’s take a moment and put all the features of the two services aside and zoom out. Between the two clouds, there’s only one key difference. And that’s the difference in the approach that’s so characteristic for Apple.


Apple wants to keep you tied only in their ecosystem. That’s why iCloud doesn’t have a folder structure. No, it’s not because it’ll just work, but because you, the user, shouldn’t be able to control it easily. As a result your free space gets filled up very fast with stuff that you probably don’t need. And in a blink of an eye you need to buy more space, and you don’t even know what’s in there.


I get a good laugh every time I read that your iTunes songs are backed up on your iCloud account. They are not backed up. They are not copied there. They are only associated with your account, and when you download them, you’re actually downloading from iTunes and not from iCloud. Everything is supposed to be simple with Apple, but in fact it’s quite complicated.


And that’s why users love DropBox.


They took the virtual hard drive approach. Let’s give the customer a place to store their stuff. People are free to store whatever they like. It’s easy and simple to do.


And that’s all good on paper, but when you get to a million files it doesn’t get any different from your real hard drive. So, you need to spend time to organize, delete all the unnecessary files because they eat up your space and even carefully separate stuff in folders.


So, which approach wins in the long term? I guess it will not be iCloud. Historically speaking Apple always embraced the closed system approach. Sometimes that works, but probably not in this case. As developer, there’s not much you can do with iCloud and as user it will probably always stay as a place for backup that you probably don’t know exists.


On the other hand, people love to put all kinds of files on DropBox. And that’s good. Freedom, no limitations, and access from any device (not just Apple).  DropBox did well. They only need to find a way to improve the organization of documents.


But, in my opinion that should be done by third party developers. There’s only that much that DropBox could do and certainly they can’t think of all the possible ideas and execute them. So, I see their service more as a platform that developers can build on.


At our startup we took this approach. We’re working on DoxBee , an email compatible document collaboration system that replaces attachments with distributed version control. DropBox (and possibly Box, GDrive, SkyDrive etc.) will store your attachments and we’re going to organize them, make them searchable and add version control and some extra features. And this is only for documents.


Users keep all kinds of data in the Cloud. It needs to be organized and used in creative ways. Clouds are not simple virtual hard drives, they can be programmed and you as a developer can take advantage of that.


Don’t Get Left Behind: Why You Need A Google+ Business page


Editor’s Note: CitizenTekk publishes startups and experts. When we were introduced to Mark Collins, we thought nothing more could be said on the topic of SEO. But apparently, we were wrong. Here’s how to master Google’s recent changes with search ranking. 


Don’t get left behind. Google’s shift from Google Places for Business to Google Plus Business pages is in full swing, as Google+ goes after Linked In and Facebook with one shot.


An estimated 80 million local businesses have the older Google Places for Business listing, that they will need to upgrade to a Google+ Business page to capitalize on the rapidly growing social media aspect that a Google+ profile now offers. (Basically, the existing Google Places for Business page automatically migrates into the Google Plus Local section of the Google+ user’s account profile, upon request. The Google+ Local page is now your local listing, in lieu of the old Google Places page).


Even though the Google Local page allows you to collect +1’s, you still need to create your Google+ business page so you can post content. Also, the business page offers more enhancements like a background profile picture instead of the default Google map, while offering a more glitzy look and feel a well.


Recipe change

It is common knowledge that Google has shifted it’s search algorithm to favor Google+ in local search. The primacy of Google+ is apparent when you combine it with the other web services owned by Google. So, another part of the formula is to use the Google-owned family of sites. You should create a YouTube video, a blog and upload pics to Panoramio with keyword tags and links back to your site. Then, add these as content posts in your Google+ page as well. Result? Your video or blog post will often rank on page one in local search, along with your website, if you follow the rest of the formula.


Content SEO vs SMB SEO

Even if you have a great content SEO campaign going for a national presence, there are advantages to establishing a good old fashioned local web presence. Here’s the gist of the recipe for getting to the top of Google search in your local area:


-Lock down your Google, Yahoo and Bing local business listings through their verification process. This is a commonly overlooked basic step, search engine submission to other sites like and AOL are also recommended.


-Directories, directories, directories


Add your  N.A.P. (name address profile) to as many local business directories as you have the time and energy to do. While backlinks are less relevant in regard to higher level content SEO, they are still a key to driving your site to Google page one search, locally.


Adding your site to Merchant Circle,, Yelp, CitySearch, HotFrog, to and to at least 50 of the hundreds of other local directories is recommended, and worth your time. You must be very careful that your N.A.P. is EXACTLY the same everywhere. For example, your phone number, street address, business name and URL must be matched character by character to be counted in Google’s algorithm. Misspelled or differently typed and spaced listings will not show up.


Finally, some of the larger, established directories are becoming content portals in their own right, so they also offer another venue to post, links articles and content as part of a global campaign.


Google +1 content


Create the basic social media profiles like Google+, Facebook, Linked In, Twitter and FourSquare with your N.A.P., then make sure you do posts regularly with a backlink to your site. (Using a free HootSuite  account allows you to blast one post to up to 5 social media accounts). Also, an enhanced Google+ business page allows you to now collect +1’s, which has adds another indirect boost to search rank as +1’s are a way for Google+ plus users to share and recommend your content.


SMB counts


SEO for SMB (Small to Medium sized Business) is it’s own, often overlooked SEO category. Yet creating a dominant local web presence is an inexpensive, yet effective way to increase web traffic, contribute to your overall content strategy, and most important, it could connect you to national clients in your own backyard.


Mark Collins is President of, and specializes in Local Web Presence and Google+ Local SEO Marketing for national firms, small to medium sized businesses and professionals. He enjoys writing web content, developing online media strategy and helping clients define their specific marketing niche and message.


Can an Algorithm Really Predict Love at First Sight?

Editor’s note: CitizenTekk publishes experts and startups. We asked Badoo to write for us because they currently have over 170 million users in over 180 countries on their social networking website - which is more than Instagram.


The Internet is present in all parts of our life – even when it comes to love and romance. In what way is online dating changing our society? Can an algorithm really predict love at first sight? And can technology improve our relationships in real life?


People don’t like being told what to do. Whether it’s being told how to behave at certain society events, or sneakily eating a cake when you’re supposed to be dieting, there’s a natural human inclination to buck all of the “good advice” that people offer you, and instead find your own (sometimes complicated) path to a well-lived and more interesting life. And it’s the same when it comes to romance and dating.


In my opinion, traditional online dating sites are far too prescriptive when it comes to finding love. And that goes against the grain of what falling in love should be all about. Where’s the romance? The spontaneity? The fun? But you can’t blame those dating sites for trying. After all, they benefit from turning dating into a serious business, taking your hard-earned money month after month. And, let’s be honest here. They are banking on your failure to meet “the one” in order to protect their monthly recurring revenue from you. So why would you trust their advice or matches at all?


On that note, when was the last time you asked someone to fill out a seven-page questionnaire when you bump into them at a bar? That’s probably the quickest way to kill romance, not cultivate it. And it’s the very imperfections and unexpected quirks that make falling in love so wonderfully human. Finding someone who might be three inches shorter than your preferred height, but with whom you have insanely good chemistry? Even the most complex of algorithms can’t match that feeling.


However, that’s not to say that the Internet can’t play a crucial role in helping people meet and date. We’re all living busier lives and are increasingly reliant on technology, so using tools and apps to help us makes sense. And we’re getting lonelier too, as long working hours, increased geographic dispersal and more time being spent online, are all contributing to us having fewer real life friends than we used to. A recent Cornell study points to this, surmising that many of us now have just two close friends in real life, even as the number of online “friends” we have is on the increase.

On that note, when was the last time you asked someone to fill out a seven-page questionnaire when you bump into them at a bar? That’s probably the quickest way to kill romance, not cultivate it.

But most online dating sites don’t really reflect real life. And that’s a problem. In real life, people meet spontaneously. They might strike up a conversation with you in a coffee bar, based purely on the unusual blend of coffee beans you happen to be drinking that day. They might decide on a whim to check out a new local bar, and end up meeting the love of their life that night. Or, they might not meet that special someone, but end up making fast friends with the bartender, based on their mutual appreciation of the music of Johnny Cash and specialty Belgian beers. You get the picture.


Technology should reflect real life when it comes to helping you find love. The best dating sites and mobile apps are the ones that don’t tell you what to do or how to behave. They simply make it easy, fun and fast to connect with new people in your area. Just like being at a local bar, coffee shop or nightclub. No pressure, no expectations. Say “hi”, break the ice, and see what happens. Isn’t that the way most of us prefer to cultivate new relationships? And importantly, this new breed of apps provide a seamless bridge to offline meetings, so you can quickly gauge whether your online chemistry is matched in real life. With many millions of social interactions to date, these apps also make it easy to meet people nearby, often with clever location-based technology that simply enhances the ease with which you can meet new people in your area. We’re spending more and more time on our mobile phones now, so location and proximity tools are increasingly important for meeting people on the fly.


Online/mobile dating is definitely here to stay, but the smart companies are the ones that respect the way we prefer to interact with others in real life, and seek to enhance it, not control it.


The best technologies and apps should simply make it easier and more fun to meet new people, and then let us humans do the rest. They should open the door to possibility and wave you inside.”


Louise Thompson, Director of PR at Badoo, a leading social network and dating site.


What is a Game Publisher Good For?

Editor’s Note: CitizenTekk publishes experts and startups. We invited Flying Helmet Games to write for us because we are intrigued (and annoyed) by the struggle game developers still face in publishing. We especially like Flying Helmet for their small size and desire to be independent.


My partner turns to me and says “What is publisher good for? It’s 2013. Why are we still involved in this archaic system when we have so many options for self distribution?” As an owner of a small, independent game studio coming up on finishing our first game it’s a question I spend a lot of time thinking about.


Flying Helmet Games is not as independent as you can get. Many of our team-members come from AAA development. The nature of our project and ambitions have attracted government funding support (of course we have to pay it back!) and we’ve only bootstrapped so far before we pulled in a bit of outside investment. However we are still in complete control of our project and creative – you can say we’re independent. Yet I’m looking for a publisher.


Common ‘Wisdom’ in the independent development land is that a publisher will take 30 to 70 percent of your take (after you 1st party ‘store’ takes their 30 percent), for the honor of being in a position to tell you how to make your game. And then, if you’re lucky, they’ll sell a few copies for you. Well, you know what, that’s mostly true. But for a few crazy reasons, at least today, I want to find one. I have a few reasons for that.


Common ‘Wisdom’ in the independent development land is that a publisher will take 30 to 70 percent of your take (after you 1st party ‘store’ takes their 30 percent), for the honor of being in a position to tell you how to make your game.


I (and the team at Flying Helmet Games) know how to make a game. We, generally, know how to finance it. I’m not so sure about selling it! I look at what we’re trying to do and it’s big, it’s ambitious, it’s a little bit crazy, and it’s pretty different than anything out there. You follow gaming news and you hear endless success stories, rags from riches tales about Angry Birds, Minecraft, Clash of Clans, and countless others. What you don’t hear about is the other tens of thousands of games that hit apps stores and quietly fade away. Some of them pull in some revenue, so many of them never make a blip on the radar. I want a partner who knows how to get our labor of passion to our audience!


I run an independent studio, but we’re not two guys out of a basement. I want to feed my team, give them a great place to work, that means I want to bring in enough revenue to support that family. We could try to self-publish, learn as much as we can about grass-roots marketing and hope for the best. It’s as easy as ever to pop a game up on an App store and hope someone notices, but I can’t turn to my team and say ‘we’ll toss it out there, and hope for the best.’


What I really want in a publisher is a partner who understands the kind of game we are making and knows how to bring it to the audience who will love it. Honestly, I don’t know how to do that myself. In a few games maybe I will, but today I don’t think personally I can reach a large enough audience on my own to be profitable and to keep paying my team.


The trick is finding the right partners who believe in what we’re trying to do and help us get to that audience, rather than change what we’re doing to fit a ‘business model of the week.’ I think a group like that is out there. But will they take a big cut of what comes in? You better believe they will, but I know that a smaller cut of a much larger audience is better for everyone than a bigger cut of a tiny audience. And, well, there’s something to be said for benefiting from the experience of others – for the same reason that we’re not building our own game engine, bringing a game to market is just not a core competency… yet.


Any partnership decisions greatly affects the future of the company – we’ll be tied to this group for a long time – and in my gut, I’m nervous about tying us to any other partners in such a tight manner, but pragmatically it makes more sense than going alone. So when my partner turns to me and asks “Why do we need to partner with a publisher?” my answer is, for now, “Because we don’t know how to sell our own game – yet. And I don’t want to rely on luck.” We’ll learn in the future, but for now it’s about slowly meeting partners and learning the best fit. But even with a good publisher, we still have to make a great game!


Edward J Douglas is a co-founder and the Creative Director at Flying Helmet Games in Vancouver, and now knows more about tax credits and game financing than he ever wanted to! Prior to going indie he put in time at Electronic Arts on the Need for Speed franchise, new IP and Mass Effect 2 at Bioware, and the Tom Clancy franchise at Ubisoft.

Edward has worked as a cinematics director, creative director, designer and producer and is now seeing just how far an indie game budget can go.


Why Your Startup Should Be Open Source – by (formerly

Editor’s Note: CitizenTekk publishes startups and experts in technology. We are featuring (formerly because the music-streaming service is completely free to use, free to change, and free to redistribute and share. The app was launched under the GNU General Public License v3 as Shortly after launching, Ryan Lester received a cease and desist from Rhapsody, resulting in the new name “”.

Many organizations have banned the use of GPL software in their codebases; here’s why my roommate, Founder Ryan Lester, chose the opposite approach.


Software Quality

Releasing your software under an open source license will quickly expand your developer team. Immediately after launched, for example, Ryan received multiple pull requests (code contributions) on GitHub.

Rather than staying limited to a small team (perhaps even a single developer), fostering an open source community will open the doors to potentially unlimited contributions from other developers, especially ones who happen to use your software; this type of feedback is thus a great indicator of major pain points your users have with your product. Even among your users who aren’t programmers, the GitHub issues system is an incredibly useful tool for tracking bug reports and feature requests.

Closed source software, by contrast, forces users to blindly trust the team behind it; I bet you can still remember the last time some Web service was “hacked” and one of your passwords was leaked in plain text as a result. The very nature of open source causes the likelihood of such careless practices to become increasingly small as the popularity of your software grows.

Competitive Risk

Couldn’t a competitor just steal your code? Under the GPL, if a competitor were to use and distribute part of your codebase, they would legally then be required to openly release all of their code under the same license. This offers fairly good protection from competitors with proprietary software whose source code they would never want released.

“Regarding matters of competition, I’m definitely at risk for potential brand dilution and/or project failure in the case that another entity reuses my code and executes more successfully on the business end; that having been said, if another entity were to pour money into development, the GPL would ensure that it would work in my favour as well.” – Ryan Lester, Founder of

Acquisition Potential 

One major concern for a new startup considering this route is whether they could be blowing their potential for future acquisition. After all, barring an “acqui-hire” situation, why would a tech giant want to buy your code off you when they can just download it for free on GitHub?

Another point is that, despite the completely open nature of, the application is still protected from major tech companies taking advantage of its code in their products by the GPL – unless they were to open source their own code or acquire ownership of Ryan’s. In either case, his product is guaranteed to live on, in contrast to the majority of startups which shut down post-acquisition.

That said, if were to take off as a community-driven project, a hypothetical acquisition event would force Ryan to sort out which code he could and couldn’t legally sell ownership of.

Project Control

Another potential tradeoff is that Ryan will be more limited in terms of control and potential strategies (e.g. for monetization), in that if he were to add something like ads, which the community were to perceive as degrading to the quality of the product, then he would be immediately forced to compete with an arbitrary number of forks that each have the aforementioned degrading quality removed. Taking this into account, however, is definitely a powerful internal check against releasing changes which would be detrimental to the community.

Launching a Web startup like as open source has been a pretty unique experiment, one which will be interesting to watch unfold. The benefits definitely seem to have outweighed the tradeoffs, in this case; going GPL should be a very strong consideration as well for other startups in the future.

As reddit user barkappara has pointed out, while the GPL is appropriate specifically for given that its code is pure client-side, Web startups should strongly consider using the GNU Affero General Public License instead of the vanilla GPL. The AGPL offers broader protections for software which is used over a network, especially Web applications that rely on server-side code.