SFTA – Big Data means Big Money

On Thursday, 9/26/13, the South Florida Technology Alliance (SFTA) hosted an event at the headquarter of Citrix Systems, Inc. titled “Big Data means Big Money“. The event was hosted by Chris Fleck, VP Technology at Citrix, well organized by the SFTA and very well attended. The generous facility at Citrix was 90% full with estimated attendance of about 250 people, far more than any previous SFTA event I had attended over the last two years. This alone sent a message of growth to every attendee. The event was a nice mix of networking over some food and drinks, followed by a moderated panel discussion with four invited panelists, all leaders involved in data-driven businesses. Below are the personal notes I took during the event, mostly the questions and most answers by the panelists. (This is not an official document, any omissions or misrepresentations are my fault.) Enjoy!


  • Panel
    Introduction by Lenni Chesal and moderated by Chris FleckRemembered several prior speakers and SFTA contributors, including:
    Ed Iacobucci
    Brad Feld (author “Startup Communities”)
    Scott Moody
    Dan Cane (Modernizing Medicine)
    John Sculley

    • Zee Aganovic (CEO HiConversion)
    • John Duffy (CEO 3CInteractive)
      “Mobile is the next wave of innovation and growth.”
    • John Ferber (Co-Founder Advertising.com)
      “Although we may not like it, advertising works, particularly retargeting (user has expressed interest before).”
    • Brian Wood (Director Business Intelligence, Office Depot)
      Web analytics, HR analytics, eCommerce analytics (how do we do recommendations?)
      Journey towards personalization capabilities
      Digital marketing helps understanding affiliate traffic, online vs. physical stores, omnichannel
  • Questions
    Suggestion to SFTA: Set up question board at Southfloridatech.org and post answers of the panel speakers for all to see.

    • What was your web epiphany?
      Duffy: working for MCI. Trying to understand what makes people buy. New technology of BBS helped business take off.
      Now mobility can do the same.Ferber: internet would help resolve the problem: “I know half of my ad dollars are wasted, I just don’t know which half.”Zee: don’t have epiphany, more of stepwise evolution. In 1993 felt something coming. Meeting with Ed and seeing application servers helped me start my own business.

      Brian: playing games on BBS when I was 20, that was awesome!
      Now focusing on OmniChannel (integrating all customer channels)

    • How are you using Big Data now?
      Duffy: passbook app on Apple iPhone. We want to manage data of customers in connection with Passbook. We have 130 million unique users.Ferber: Internet marketing is a typical user of big data. Because of never-ending quest to serve the perfect ad. We may not like ads, but it touches almost all of our lives!Zee: Not just how can we collect the data, but also include the time dimensions.
      Wayne Gretzky “Skate to where the puck is going to be”
      Customer behavior is changing all the time; need to predict how they will behave; todays analytics is like driving with looking in the rearview mirror.

      Wood: Can we justify the large spend on ads? How can we improve it further by determining the efficacy of marketing.
      Correlate online and offline behavior of customers!

    • When you need a new printer…
      Duffy: you need business process automation.
      Do you remember your business before the Internet?
      The business was about the same things, but it runs more efficiently with automated processes. Mobile can lead to the next wave of innovationFerber: short and mnemonic URLs help. Printer -> officesupplies.comZee: Buyer needs the right experience (“ambience”) to buy. Every nuance of the site can make a major difference. Human eye catches peripheral elements on the site and processes it subconsciously. If you systematically optimize that you can increase conversion rates drastically.

      Wood: A|B testing constantly; not yet dynamically changing the site. But measuring what works and what doesn’t.

    • When is next sophistication coming?
      When will you see ads for toner (instead of other printers)?Ferber: Retargeting has been shown to be 50x as effective as normal marketing. (Target customers again who have previously expressed interest.)Duffy: Remember the story about Target sending baby item ads to a pregnant high schooler and dad complained, later apologized (Target knew about the pregnancy based on her purchasing behavior before the dad did).
    • How much can be expected from Social Media towards more agility?
      Wood: <complicated longwinded question from audience> “Huh?” We know stock volumes to the minute, so driving towards real-time. Its an ongoing evolution.
    • What item of data is most important for conversions?
      Ferber: What the user has already expressed interest in.Zee: With big data the curtain is down. What works for one business may not work for others. Every customer solution is unique.Duff: Mobile phone number remains the same and may well become the single most important piece of data about a particular customer.
    • What areas can Big Data impact?
      Ferber: Healthcare is big; predicting forest fires, etc. Every industry is going to be impacted.Zee: What’s the new economy? Information about new products is more important than the product itself.
    • How can social circles be reengaged to increase business?
      Duffy: It’s a balancing act between relevancy and annoyance.
      Email was destroyed as a marketing mechanism due to spam.
      Other channels are very careful to avoid that same mistake.
    • What technology platforms do you use?
      Ferber: Redshift from Amazon; everything in the cloud. Much easier to get started.Wood: We have dabbled with a lot of technologies (Redshift, Netezza, Cloudera); we want to increase leverage of the cloud.Zee: Akamai on frontend, backend various technologies
    • Will there be a consolidation of big data providers?
      Ferber: Yes, its a crowded space and like all those spaces when they mature it will shake out.Zee: 2/10 rule of USPS, if people think its going to be great in 2 years, its probably going to get there in 10 years.

Gold Coast Venture Capital Association, Aug-2013 Meeting

On Wednesday, August 28, 2013 the Gold Coast Venture Capital Association (GCVCA) together with the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), South Florida chapter had organized a meeting in Boca Raton to bring together investors, entrepreneurs and other professionals in their Tru-Life series. Three CEOs presented about their companies, two of them actively seeking funding:

  • Cydec – a next-generation email and ecommerce platform, CEO Brett Fogle
  • Bookt – a SaaS company for the global short-term housing rental market, CEO Rob Kall
  • Feathr – a maker of conference apps for smartphones empowering people, CEO Aidan Augustin

It was a good networking event with about 50 people in attendance. Interestingly, one of the pitches (Feathr) was about how to improve the networking among people at conferences or events just like this via the use of smartphone apps and data-driven recommendations of who you should meet. The cost was a bit high ($65 for non-members), the dinner was so-so, and a few logistical items could have gone better, but overall a useful event to network. Attached below are my notes taken during the presentations.

Meeting Minutes from GCVCA and ACP event Aug-2013 in Boca Raton

Meeting Minutes from GCVCA and ACP event Aug-2013 in Boca Raton

    Link:www.gcvca.org/Gold Coast Venture Capital (GCVCA) and Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) joint event with 3 founder pitches, 2 of them looking for funding.

    Robert Fitts, Trident Global LLC, Director

    Education, Association and Information on entrepreneurial opportunities

    Jim Craig, president of SF chapter of Association of Corporate Growth (ACG)
    Worldwide 15.000 members, mostly M&A transactions

    GCVCA meets the last Wed of every month, next month topic is crowdfunding

    • Agenda
      Event 8/28/13 at Embassy Suites, Boca Raton
      • Bookt
        Bookt is a B2B SaaS company addressing the $85 billion global short-term housing rental market. The firm is founded by a team of seasoned entrepreneurs with previous successful exits in real estate technology. With clients on six continents and exclusive partnerships with travel giants like TripAdvisor and HomeAway, Bookt is looking to increase its already rapid growth rate to become the leading software provider in this exciting industry.
        CEO, Rob Kall will present.

        • Product
          InstaManager = SaaS service for booking and travel industryGrowth of travel industry

          Vacation Rental market is booming, AirBnB

          Short-term rental is disrupting the hotel industry

          Integrated offering as a service

          Uses Big Data and Visualization

          Launched in 2011, now 200 clients around the world

          Acquisition cost $1k, lifetime value LTV $12.5k, annual value $4k

          Addressable market = 50.000 companies

          Mgmt team knows how to scale from prior companies and exits

          Focus on ease of integrating existing data

        • Business Model
          Transaction Based Subscription FeesPartner Rev-shares

          Setup Fees & Pro Services
          (Outsource at $20/h but bill at $100/h)

        • Q&A
          – LiveRez
          – HomeAway
          – Kigo.netSaaS businesses are sticky b/c of the switching pain away from your current solution
      • Cydec
        Cydec is a next-generation email and ecommerce platform that empowers website owners and marketers to make more money, work less, and have more time to work on their business vs. in their business. Cydec offers simple yet powerful tools for processing online sales, email marketing, managing affiliate partner sales, tracking advertising, and business automation. Cydec is a user friendly alternative to the complicated and confusing shopping carts and CRM’s in the marketplace today.
        Brett Fogle, Founder and CEO, will present.Facebook.com/cydecSoftware


        Wasn’t clear to me what technology differentiator and why it would be easier to use.

        • Motto
          Simple. Fast. Easy. Shopping cart solution90% of online businesses fail due to lack of proper tool support

          Costly packages, 9 of 10 users are unhappy with their current solution

          Cydec brings enterprise grade tools at small business prices

          Specialty: Charitable donations at the end of each transaction; goal is to raise $100m for various charities.
          Studies showed that people like to buy from companies who donate to charities.

        • Product
          Integrated CRM systemIncreases conversion rate and reduces abandonment rate

          Allows for automation of routine tasks

          Technology integrates Sales, Email Marketing, Reporting, Ad Tracking, Affiliate Mgmt

          Customized order forms etc.

          Integrating with other SaaS providers like email campaigns, payment providers, etc.

          Subscription based model, 3 tiers, $1000-$3000 per year

        • Q&A
          Who are your competitors?Fusionsoft, got $50m from Goldman, growth 50% YoY, but unpopular with users

          Current annual revenue ~100.000 per year

          Target market 1-25 employees, -$20m annual revenues.

          Goal is to exit by being sold to a larger company like MSFT, Salesforce, SurveyMonkey

      • Feathr
        Conferences are about people; Feathr makes conference apps that put people first. Feathr’s mobile solution helps attendees maximize their time at an event by intelligently suggesting which sessions, companies, and people are most relevant to them and making those connections happens. Our action-oriented user interface simplifies both first contact and post-event follow-up. Simply put, Feathr turns contacts into connections.
        Aidan Augustin, Co-Founder and CEO, will present.

        • Motto
          Dissatisfaction with existing networking by paper business cardsFeathr provides:
          – much easier networking
          – organizing events
          – follow up
          – opp for ads
          – who should I meet!
        • Product
          Feathr Smartphone apps & data analyticsTeam of nine full time

          Business opportunity 1.8m events $263B spend in US

          Key differentiators:
          – clean UI
          – focus on people and connections
          – HOLMES algo suggests who you should meet (machine learning)
          – create value for sponsors

          Revenue model:
          – simple event app $1k
          – multi-event app for $5k

          Path to success
          – measure traction and engagement metrics

          Launched in April-2013, breaking even on monthly run-rate.

          Expand to corporate events and local regional events (like Meetup)

          Increasingly powerful knowledge graph from HOLMES

        • Q&A
          What’s your penetration rate at typical events?
          – 45-50% , more at tech-savvy events – at today’s event we were <10%LinkedIn could be an exit target (to be bought by LI)

Neurons and Networking

On Wednesday, July 24, 2013 there was an evening event at the Max Planck Institute Florida (MPFI) titled “Neurons and Networking“. By now, there are three institutes with a focus on Neuroscience in Jupiter within just a few hundred yards of each other:

This event was co-organized by the above three and Dr. Michael Gregson from the LifeScience-Technology Hub (LST-Hub). There were more than 160 attendees, filling the main auditorium to maximum capacity and spilling over into an overflow room with live video feed. Three scientific talks were given, one from a scientist of each of the above institutions, as well as some context provided by Michael Gregson, Dr. David Fitzpatrick (CEO MPFI) and Rod Murphey. A common theme was the synergy between the labs and researchers of these institutions, literally bringing together a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.

In addition to the presented science, it was an excellent networking event for professionals in the Life Sciences and beyond. Attached below are my notes taken during the lectures.

Meeting Notes from Neuron and Networking Event

Meeting Notes from Neuron and Networking Event

Neurons & Networking
Event 2013/07/24 at MPFI, Scripps, FAU

Introduction by Michael Gregson about the “Trifecta” of Scripps, MPFI, and FAU

Introduction of Max Planck Society by Dr. David Fitzpatrick, CEO MPFI
“Insight precedes application”
-> today’s fundamental understanding leads to tomorrow’s cure of brain disorders
New technologies for imaging neural structure, function, and development

  • Linking Molecules and Memory
    Dr. Ryohei Yasuda

    • Goal
      Is to understand how memory works in the brain at a molecular level.
    • Hippocampus
      Small seahorse shaped structure in our brain vital for memoryFamous case of Henry Molaison (1926-2008) who had hippocampus removed at age 16;
      Could not form any new memories after that, but old memory was not affected.Zoom in to cross section of hippocampus down to neuron levelDendrite and Axons, Spines (connection points)
      – 10,000 spines / neuron,
      – 100,000,000,000 neurons / brain

      Glutamate release at synapse can move electric pulse from one dendrite to another axon
      More releases lead to increase in Glutamate receptors, hence strengthening the synapse.

      Molecular basis of signaling enzymes is very complex.

      Ryohei developed microscope to see inside the synapse formation at spines.

    • Alzheimer’s Disease
      Most common form of dementia,Symptoms include difficulty in remembering recent eventsAt present no cure or preventionIn affected brains there is a high concentration of Beta-Amyloid, which prevents formation of spines.

      Signaling molecule Centaurin is increased; when Centaurin is removed / inhibited, spine formation returns.

      Drugs to remove Centaurin will be tested in mice soon!

      Causes for Centaurin are poorly understood. Some factors for Centaurin increase may be genetically controlled.

  • The NeuroScience of Autism
    Damon Page, graduate at Cambridge, UK, postdoc at Harvard on autismIntroduced by Ron Davis, Director of Department of Neuroscience at Scripps
    “Memory is all you ever really own!”
    Mission is to unravel the mysteries of brain function, identify the causes of brain dysfunction, and train young scientists for research careers in brain health

    • Autism Spectrum Disorder
      ASD has broad impacts in social interaction, communication, repetitive motor sequences and restricted interests. Often linked to a lack of understanding how others are thinking / feeling.4:1 male to female ratio – for unknown reasonsIncreased rate of diagnosis. Partly die to better awareness, but only about half accounted for by that. The other half is part genetic, part environmental.
    • Genetic risk factors
      Autism is one of the most heritable neurological disorders
      The cause of autism is unknown in the majority of cases
      20% of cases are associated with a known genetic risk factorUsually multiple genetic changes come together in any particular ASD case.Study with mice (clean genetic background)Is there a common biological pathway that autism risk factors act in?

      Can we identify symptoms relevant to autism in animal models of risk factors?

    • Research
      What could be called Pharmacogenetics:
      Finding drugs that target genetically controlled disorders.

      • Brain Overgrowth
        Macrocephaly – head and brain enlargementsLinked to gene PTEN (influencing the mTOR pathway)Typically ~20% size increase of brain, w/o increase in body size.
        Number of neuron bodies increase, their size remains about the same.
      • Social Interaction Deficits
        Famous patient Donald T. Book: “Autism’s First Child” on this patientStudy with mice (on how they interact with other mice)Hypothesis: social behavioral deficits can be corrected by targeting one specific serotonin receptor; hyperactive in animals with disorder; if we suppress it, return to normal social behavior.
  • Jupiter Life Science Initiative
    Rod Murphey

    • Neuroscience in Jupiter
      Facilitates recruiting new faculty from FAU
      Energizes research collaborations with Jupiter partners”Connectome” of Jupiter Neuroscience community = Connections between various institutionsAcademic training in Neuroscience at Jupiter
  • From Genes to Drugs
    Ken Dawson-Scully

    • Fruit Fly Model
      The fruit fly as a model system for the discovery of molecules to rescue neural dysfunction and survival from stroke-like injuryInsects can tolerate enormous amounts of stress (high temperatures, low oxygen, oxidative)Fruit Fly is very well understood, entire genome is known, all genes can be expressed or suppressed.
      Can use genetic screens and/or pharmacological screens. (Inhibitors and activators)Fruit flies are quick and cheap to use; once targets are identified, researchers can move up to other organisms like mice.
    • Stress Analysis
      Understand how insects can tolerate prolonged intense stress which humans can’t and what controls the genetic targets of those mechanisms.
    • Translational Science
      Discovery of gene in flyUse of drug for modulating gene targetPatentsTranslate findings to mammals

      Translate treatments to humans

      • Startup Eco Neurologics Inc.
        Eco Neurologics Inc.1. Drug Discovery
        2. Patent Validation
        3. Novel indication Direct to Human Stroke/Reperfusion InjuryCandidate Drug Discovery:
        Reverse Approach via the deconstruction of Sildenafil (compound in Viagra)
        Building from library of natural molecules to improve on viagra for stroke prevention and EDGood example of LST-Hub synergy

South Florida Technology CEO Business Outlook

On June 20, 2013 the South Florida Technology Alliance (SFTA) had organized a networking event and panel discussion with four CEOs of regional technology businesses. The moderator asked various questions about the state of the economy, the challenges of starting and growing a new company, especially around financing. The regional aspects of PR and overcoming the notion that Florida is only suitable for retirees was highlighted. As a region we face the challenge of creating critical mass for the number of technology employers to attract talent to the region. Lastly, the challenges of overcoming the initial hurdle to attract customers and generate a revenue stream was emphasized. Once companies get over that initial hump, there seems to be no shortage of funds they can attract, in particular from private investors (FL ranks 3rd in the nation for states in angel investor money.)

Topics discussed during SFTA CEO Technology Business Outlook event Jun-20, 2013

Topics discussed during SFTA CEO Technology Business Outlook event Jun-20, 2013

Detailed Notes:

  • SFTA

    • CEO Business Outlook
      Date: 6/20/13; Location: Embassy Suites, Boca Raton, FL

      • Panel
        Rob Strandberg, Enterprise Development Corporation
        Daniel Cane, Modernizing Medicine
        Ron Antevy, eBuilder
        Dr. Zee Aganovic, HiConversion

        • Enterprise Development Corporation
        • Modernizing Medicine
          Link:www.modmed.com/130 employees, build iPad apps for doctors, subscription $650 / month
          Doctors’ time is very valuable!
          In Boca
        • eBuilder
          Link:www.e-builder.net/Construction Management Software for facility owner
          (Hospital, gov’t entity, school, etc.)
          Control and transparency for building / construction projects (lots of money to be saved)
          I Plantation, since 17 years, continued to grow
        • HiConversion
          Link:www.hiconversion.com/Serve companies to sell products online,
          Use machine learning to optimize profits
      • Questions
        • What keeps technology CEO awake at night?
        • Are companies investing in technology now?
          Cash flow is easing a bit, approval is not as tight anymore,
          But you still need to show string ROI and proven solutioneBuilder was growing through recession; mostly due to improved efficiencies (do more with less). Purse strings are opening up a little now.

          Selling is never easy; referrals are very important.

          EDC deals with startups; corporate US is reducing their budgets, but increased activity in M&A (-> exit strategy for startups)

        • What tips do you have to raise money?
          Obama administration passed the Jobs act, which included the “IPO on ramp”
          It allows companies below a certain size to go public without SOX which saves lots of time and money.If you’re good, execute well, have customer base, then investors will find you and you’ll get approached. There is a lot of money out there.

          “Once you are successful, the money goes after you.”

          Last few years, it was very hard and VC market dried up.

          Risk of next bubble due to too much money chasing few ideas & companies.

        • What major incentives do you have this year?
          Focus on many little things is important as well.
          “It’s all about execution!”Getting over the startup hump to create trailing revenue is very hard.
          But once you”re there, a lot of money is on the sidelines ready to come in.

          De-identifying data on iPad, moving into Big Data, giving it back to doctors who know best what to do with that data. (Daniel Cane)

          Angel investors are returning between 20-50% annual returns!
          AngelSoft or Gust (investment platforms)
          3rd largest state for Angel startups in US is FL.

        • What one decision was key for you?
          eBuilder: We stared to focus on one vertical (hospitals). Began high growth of the business due to domination of this narrow market.
          “We became students of our sales process.” That’s what allowed us to grow more rapidly.HiConversion: We focused on one marketplace with few, but powerful customers. That way we became a big fish in a small pond. Required discipline not to try to go after very large pond.

          Modernizing Medicine: “You always hire people smarter than yourself.” Realization that one can’t pull this off on your own.

          EDC: track down the smartest people you can find, especially for the management team.

        • Biggest challenge you have in 2013?
          EDC: FL has large pool of private investors. Challenge is to get them to understand the potential of startups.MM: We lose the reputation race in SoFla. People think of FL as a place for retirement. We can’t win this fight alone; instead a rising tide lifts all boats.
          We need to do more to raise the profile of FL at the national level.
          “FL is more than Mickey Mouse and oranges.”

          eBuilder: Hiring 25-30 people in 2013.

          HiConversion: People, people, people. Shortage of talent. US needs to open up H1B visa again. Otherwise technical talent falls short.

          Education needs to improve. We also need to defend the quality of our universities. Help universities.

        • One marketing tip to offer for companies?
          EDC: Often the first inflection point is to land that first customer. Invest in personal relationships. Get out the and work with your customers.MM: You have to sell yourself as much as your product. Turn your customer into an advocate. Make them work with you and want you to succeed. Have them share in your success.
          People like to be respected; reach out to your customers (such as calling them after a sale) and you’ll reap big rewards later.

          eB: we have done a mini road trip around the country to get together with companies about how to better do business with them. Don’t blast them with standard marketing material, but customize it for them and engage with them on a common journey you can both learn from.

          HiC: Try to reach a state where you earn referral business from very satisfied customers.

        • Is M&A a good way forward?
          Companies merge for three reasons:
          – install base / customers
          – IP portfolio
          – employeesYou need to have all three legs of that stool. If it’s not a good fit, M&A doesn’t make much sense.