Do You Know the Way To Download Day?

I’m writing this post in the car while @KurtyD and I take the Great Californian Road Trip up highway 101 to San Jose for the public launch of San Jose 311 – “Mobile City Hall,” which was built by CitySourced.

The event is being dubbed “Download Day” and being sponsored by Councilmember Pete Constant of the first district of San Jose.  You may remember Councilmember Constant from TechCrunch who appeared on stage, a swift move that many have credited for our strong finalist showing at the competition.

Download Day, which is being held at the West Valley Community Center, will bring together a wide range of community leaders from civic, non profit, political, college, government, law enforcement and faith-based groups for a brief educational demonstration followed by a public send-off of teams to canvass neighborhoods and report blights in real time.  This is just great stuff.

The folks at the City of San Jose have been amazing to work with and I learned why San Jose’s motto is “The Capitol of Silicon Valley;” they really understand and want to work with startups. Getting to know all these city officials during this process has truly put me in awe of how cities operate.

This entire process has been an amazing learning experience.  One of the most important things that differentiates startups from their more well established counterparts is the ability to be lean and agile.  For us, that means driving from our Intergalactic Headquarters in Los Angeles to San Jose and either crashing on the floor with a friend or—gulp—paying for the Motel 6 Hotel.

So, we’re thrilled to be lighting up our first city, the San Jose Mercury News did a nice write up already and we’re expecting some additional press tomorrow.  Looking at the business development pipeline, we’re expecting a lot more cities in the next few months.

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Drinking from the Fire hose: Our TC50 Experience

CitySourced, a product of FreedomSpeaks, was honored this past week to present and then place third overall at the TechCrunch50 Conference.  This past weekend myself and our two co-founders agreed that the events that transpired were a game changer.  Not only was our product going to receive more hype, maybe even funding, but all of us were emotionally different; we had, as one adviser told us, just advanced ten levels in the video game.  So, what changed? And what are the three lessons we’d like to share with those who prepare for their first product demo at next year’s TC50?

First, you can never practice enough.  We worked until 2:00 am every night for a week prior to our presentation nailing all the details and continuing to refine and update our presentation and product.  When we heard that other companies were partying the night before while we were huddled in our crappy hotel room in Cupertino refining our pitch, we said to ourselves that we might have a fighting chance at winning.  So, plan on being completely exhausted, and maybe even getting diarrhea (as we did) from the combination of stress and exhaustion.

Concerning our pitch, there are a few industry leaders, like Steve Jobs, who excel at this very well. If you study their style you will realize that it isn’t an secret, the signs are everywhere.  First, do not ever go past your allotted time limit.  It’s rude to the judges and your audience of potential customers.  Second, make sure you are actually showing your product and how it works within the first 30 seconds.  Third, it’s helpful to make news by having third party validation during your presentation.  A few presenting companies showed signed contracts from customers.  For CitySourced, we actually brought the customer, Pete Constant, a city councilman from the City of San Jose, on stage.  I recall attending WWDC back in 2007 and Steve Jobs not only announced that Intel was going to be making chips for the Mac, but then he surprised everyone and actually brought Paul Otinelli on stage.  Finally, tell a story.  You aren’t just doing a product demo, you are telling a story.  Your audience may be very intelligent, but they are also like children in that their attention will wane if you drag on and don’t relate to how your product will change their life, or better yet, the world.
We received a lot of favorable feedback on our presentation, which can be found here:

The second lesson we can share is to be humble and calm.  It does help to believe in a power greater than oneself and acknowledge them for getting you this far and to ask for the ability to cope.  Despite practicing a lot, things will go wrong.  I guarantee it.  You may flub a word or fail to stay on message during the demo or Q&A.  That’s likely not the end of the world.  One of the lessons in Silicon Valley I learned over the past two years was that it’s ok to fail, but fail fast.  If you find one of your key team members unable to cope with the stress due to failure or a mistake made, take them out of the game until they can recover.  Despite their strong value add in getting to this point, if they are too emotional, they of no value to you at the present.  In addition, it’s important also to be humble.  Make sure you watch other presentations to get a feel of how others present and what the questions judges ask.  That was another form of practicing for us.  Be sure to visit your fellow peers at their booths.  Yes, it is a cutthroat competition, and we are all in it to win it, but we are also a community of entrepreneurs who ultimately need to have each others’ back.  In short, as one blog post noted, don’t drink your own Kool-Aide.

The final lesson we can share is remember to market your product.  Beyond presentation, your booth serves as a constant reminder for those walking by to learn more.  I found several presenting companies not staffing their booth after their presentation.  Not good.  In addition, it’s important to have really good press relations.  I learned through a close source that most companies did not even take advantage of the registered press list given out to presenting companies.  Even fewer actually sent a personalized note to every reporter on the list to engage them.  We believe this was critical to the favorable press we received following our event.

We were also humbled when Robert Scoble discovered us and actually came by our offices the following day to conduct an on-camera interview.  Remember that time is money and if a member of the press spent their time reading about your product and writing to inform their audience, the least you can do is thank them with a personal note, as we did.

For many, presenting at TC50 was our first major product demo at a technology trade show conference and hopefully not our last.  We hope the above lessons shared from our experience will be helpful to future presenting companies and that you will look back 10-20 years recalling your first demo with many happy memories.  Just because you are a startup and may not have the presentation resources like a Cisco, Apple or Microsoft, doesn’t mean you can’t abide by these simple, free ways that we believe were critical to our success.

Thanks to the TC50 opportunity, our hard work is paying off with our phones ringing off the hook with new leads, plus notable interest from press and investors has been exciting, encouraging, and oh so worth the sprinting we endured leading up to the confernece. In fact, the sprinting is what prepped us to drink from the fire hose, and now that we’ve tasted it we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this dream of ours a reality.  We are very excited about our launch and look forward to sharing with you more exciting news about CitySourced as we aim to make your city a better place to live.  Remember: It’s Your City.

ABOUT CITY SOURCED
CitySourced is a real time mobile civic engagement tool. CitySourced provides a free, simple, and intuitive tool empowering citizens to identify civil issues (potholes, graffiti, trash, snow removal, etc.) and report them to city hall for quick resolution; an opportunity for government to use technology to save money and improve accountability to those they govern; and a positive, collaborative platform for real action. Our platform is called CitySourced, as it empowers everyday citizens to use their smart phones to make their cities a better place. CitySourced is powered by FreedomSpeaks, the leader in interactive civic engagement.

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Go See This Great Film On Youth & Politics

Graham Sibley and Justin Scot, founders of the YounitedFoundation, invited FreedomSpeaks to sponsor their event again this year – the 2009 Donkaphant Film Festival in partnership with the LA Film Festival, and they premiered Jason Pollack’s new film, “The Youngest Candidate“.

The event was great, and the film… even better. Jason Pollock did an incredible job writing, directing and producing this documentary that follows four teenagers as they throw their hat into the political ring.  Pollock worked with Michael Moore for over three years on 911 and this is his directorial debut. It shows a glimpse of the emerging future, and we’re excited to see this film succeed.

Check it out!

The Youngest Candidate, Directed by Jason Pollock (@Jason_Pollock)

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The Proponent – FreedomSpeaks White Label API Released

We’re proud to announce the release of our flagship product The Proponent. In a nutshell, it’s the online solution for grassroots advocacy campaigns. Hats off to Ben Kuo at socalTECH.com for his recent coverage of our new product launch.

We’ve built it on a solid framework (cloud computing services, xml, json, rest, etc.), and our approach is a game changer is what our clients are telling us. Not only does our API allow our clients to control their presentation, but our data set drills down to the local level.  Plus, we’ve priced it to take market from competitors, plus we’ve filled it to the brim with Web 2.0 functionality and features.

We have an referral program too, so keep your eyes and ears peeled about our weekly webinars to show you how to use the product, as well as making some dough referring clients our way.

Check it out and let us know what you think. We’re always open to feedback – positive and critical.

How can you help us get the  product out there and wake up the neighborhood?

C’mon!

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TalkPAC Chooses FreedomSpeaks for Advocacy Solution

We’ve recently signed on TalkPAC, an organization dedicated to defeating the “Fairness Doctrine”, to our suite of advocacy solutions. By implementing our API, they’ve been able to send out over 100,000 letters (via email & fax) to their members’ representatives. Along with them, we’ve also signed on NoMoreTaxation, an organization intent on decreasing the tax burden on the American Citizen.

We’ve also begun working on an offline solution to the problem of citizen apathy disengagement called CitizenCamp. Think of this as an offline (think “real world”) tool to get the citizenry educated and involved in the political process. Such items as how to create an election initiative or proposition, best practices in effecting political change, and a slew of others will be on the agenda. We’ll also be looking to you, the citizens of this fine country, for ideas on making government more transparent and accessible. FreedomSpeaks, along with some other socially conscious partners, will be sponsoring events to achieve this goal. So be on the lookout for a CitizenCamp near you. Oh, there will also be food and drink served at all CitizenCamps – good times abound!

A revolution has begun America. It’s time to wake up the neighborhood!

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This Holiday Party Should Not be Missed – DFR2008

My good friend, Kurt Daradics is putting on a smash hit of a holiday party (DFR 2008) this Thursday at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles, CA. It will definitely be the goto event of the holiday season, so get your tickets before it's sold out. Tickets and more information can be found on the Digital Family Reunion website. Let's end the this year with some great conversations!

http://www.digitalfamilyreunion.net

Digital Family Reunion 2008

Be sure to stop by and say hello if you see me. If you don't know me, introduce yourself. :) See you all there!

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Government Transparency Is An Attitude

The current regime of Senators and Congressmen(women) need an attitude adjustment. I read recently that there is on OpenCongress' Blog that there is a Senator blocking the nomination of the watchdog protecting our $700 Billion bailout of the financial industry. Why would this person want to remain in secrecy? My guess is that he's got some big banking lobbyists backing him up.

The report goes on to say that Senator Jim Bunning is the one that is suspected of blocking the vote. He's quoted as saying, "I wonder why taxpayers should have to pay $50 million to a watchdog who will have nothing to watch."

Maybe someone should write this guy a letter and "encourage" him to get off his high horse and start representing the people that elected him. It's attitudes like this that upset so many Americans. He's basically said that we should just "trust" the financial community with the $700 Billion. Yeah right. I'm going to settle for some accountability and transparency.

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Check Out Mixergy’s Andrew Warner’s Interview with Me on Building Apps for Social Networks

First, let me say what a pleasure it was to sit down and talk with Andrew from Mixergy.com. He's done some great interviews, and I'm honored that he wanted to have a chat with me. Andrew contacted me when he discovered that I built an application for MySpace called IMe. I was also the lead front end developer for the original team that built MySpace's MySpaceIM desktop chat application.

During the interview, we talked about the process a company or individual would go through to get an application on a social network such as Facebook or MySpace. Here's a link to the blog post and interview audio. He's got a summary posted, a video of his thoughts on the interview and a link to download it. Enjoy!

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Civic Apathy & Disengagement is Still Alive & Well…

Normally, I'm quite elated when I'm right about things (which would explain my typically 'happy' demeanor). This time, however, it's a bit different. I've been reading some numbers regarding the voter turnout for the 2008 Presidential election, an election that has lived up to the historic proportions predicted.

From what I can find, voter turnout in 2004 (George W. Bush v. John Kerry) was 125 Million (my sources are listed at the bottom). In 2008, my sources indicate the same number for voter turnout – 125 Million. This would mean that the voter turnout actually decreased due to the 6.1 million increase in eligible voters in 2008. It's of considerable note as well how I calculate the percentage. I am basing voter turnout on total eligible voters from the entire US population, regardless of voter registrations.

So while I am happy to have participated and voted in this monumental Presidential election, this data only further reinforces my notion that people still really don't care. "Transforming Civic Engagement" is one of the foundations for why I created FreedomSpeaks. Can we as a nation ever get to a voter turnout of 65% or even 75%? I can't answer that question, but I am confident FreedomSpeaks can be a significant factor in getting us there.

Sources: http://delicious.com/DotNetAllDay/turnout

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Causecast Rocks, Literally.

For all of you that joined FreedomSpeaks and Causecast last night, thank you for making it a truly memorable event. We voted, and then we partied late into the night. And we got to watch President Elect Barack Obama give his acceptance speech on monster 10' screens. Thanks again everyone. It was great to see the people taking an interest in the political process again. I hope we can keep that momentum for future elections!

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