Google and the Sleeping Giant

There’s been a lot of talk in the mainstream media and in the blogosphere lately about Google’s acquisitions, Microsoft’s acquisitions, and whose acquisitions were better, or meant to block the other. It’s good stuff! Really good stuff. I’ve got a few opinions about this stuff, like anyone watching the developments from afar, but I don’t feel that I’m that much in-the-know so I choose to just sit back and observe and learn from it all. Over the past few days there have been some more developments in this Google vs. Microsoft hype that’s really been interesting to watch, including Microsofts acquisition of aQuantive. I think all this stuff has a big impact on me and on Citysquares actually.

I follow Don Dodge’s blog, and Donna Bogatin of ZDNET, and others like those in my blogroll (to the left). These folks all have strong positions and views of Google and Microsoft, and their transactions and supposed strategies.

I’m a big Microsoft fan. Maybe because I grew up on Microsoft and I’ve been certified in a variety of Microsoft products and skills (e.g., MCSE W2k + Active Directory). I am fairly savvy with ASP and .Net, with SQL, Active Directory, Exchange, etc etc. I’m just a loyal Microsoft guy. I didn’t choose .Net, SQL, Windows Server for Citysquares. I chose LAMP technology instead, for reasons I won’t go into here and now, but in short because it’s just a better development platform, IMHO.

I use Vista.
I use Office 2007 – I don’t ever see myself going to and Google apps.
I use MapPoint 2006. Yet Citysquares’ uses Google Maps.
I don’t use Hotmail except for my Messenger services. Yet I do use Gmail, and I do use Google Talk.
I don’t use MSN, ever. But my home page is my super-customized Google page (iGoogle).
I use MS Money 2007, and love it.
My preferred search engine is Google.

In my life Google has a place, and Microsoft has a place. I see Google as trying to push into too many places – and I don’t like that. It’s sort of like watching a teenager who has too much freedom, money, and independence. Maybe it’s more like the way Donna Bogatin put it – Microsoft is a sleeping giant.

Only time will tell and in the meantime I’ll continue watch this like I watch the Boston Red Sox and the NY Yankees.

TechSpace is Good Space

When Citysquares first launched as an idea I was still running Atomic Enterprises. We had an office in downtown Boston, near the Orpheum Theatre and across from the Park Street T station. It was a great location. The office left a lot to be desired though – there were break-ins, fires, junkies lingering outside, criminal activity in front of our door, and lots of shadiness.

Back in September of ’06 we (Citysquares) moved out and went virtual. Getting an office wasn’t a priority for a while, as it was saving us good money and we were still productive. But it didn’t take long for morale to take a dive. That was tough, really tough at time. Bob lives in Groton, about an hour away, and Chris, at the time, lived down the street from me. He’d come to my house and work in the basement with me – awkward, yes, but necessary for us to maintain sanity. Bob continued to work from home, in Groton.

Over time, morale took a big dive and we were losing productivity – starting to get frustrated with the situation. An office was immediately necessary but we really couldn’t afford anything, – then came the funding.

We were in the market for an office. Having had an office in the past I knew the operational headaches that come with a regular office – a lease, utilities, Internet service, phone service, parking, security, cleaning/maintenance, and all of the other bullshit that comes with it. Then, you end up spending 10-15% of your time dealing with all that – paying those bills, dealing with outages, changes, etc etc. Argh! No thank you! I need to be productive. We, as a company, need to be productive. A shared office space would be ideal.

We looked at HQ, Regus – no thanks. Too corporate, stodgy. If we were a law firm or a brokerage of some sort, sure why not. They were also pretty darn pricey. Then we checked out Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC), in Kendall Square, Cambridge. Let’s just say we weren’t treated too well so that didn’t work out. We fell in love with TechSpace in the South End, but we weren’t too thrilled with the location and needed a little added incentive.

We dealt with Paul McBride, the site manager at TechSpace. Paul was very assertive at winning our business. We put up a bit of a fight and weren’t totally convinced that TechSpace would suit our needs. We had very specific and technical requirements, especially pertaining telecommunications. Paul bent over backwards for us and proved to us that we’d be a valued tenant here at TechSpace. Eventually he had to let go and leave us to make the decision, which we did after a ridiculous amount of internal discussion.

We moved into TechSpace in one day, about a month ago. We’re extremely pleased! Paul has proven to be a fantastic resource for us here, and the admin staff, Myrna and Grace, are top-notch. There’s a cafeteria-like set-up here run by a classy old-school Southie guy named Mike. He does a great job of serving up breakfast and lunch every day here.

The atmosphere at TechSpace Boston is creative, funky, fun, communal, casual, techie, dot-commy. It’s a great place. We’ve got these giant windows at our desks that open up – thrilling! We’ve got access to 4 bonded T-1s, chilling! Four conference rooms, a parking lot, our own private suite, a full IT infrastructure, good people in the neighboring suites and in the hallways, and most importantly – we’ve been super-productive since the day we moved in here.

TechSpace is a great space. If you’re in startup mode, or if you’re a small, innovative and creative company, check out TechSpace at 580 Harrison Ave, 4th floor, in the South End of Boston. Call Paul McBride at (617) 275-7000. He’ll treat you well if you tell him Ben sent you!

2007-05-31: Quick update to this. I just learned that one of the bigger tenants here is moving out in June. Lots of new space available. We may have to relocate down the hall. But also, I just learned that yet another dot-com is moving in here. This is really turning into a nice spot for Boston dot-coms!

Congratulations to Jack Connolly

Congratulations Jack Connolly, for winning the Alderman-at-Large seat! I’m proud of you, and really glad to see you back. You’ll be able to do even greater things now.

Jack Connolly was Alderman of Somerville’s greater Davis Square neighborhood (insert Ward # here) for 22 years, until he lost a couple years ago to the young Rebekah Gewirtz. It was a real upset for Mr. Connolly, and his supporters. Rebekah did a heck of a job getting the younger and YUPPY vote, and Jack ended up being a victim of his own hard work.

I’m a big Jack Connolly fan, and I consider Jack a friend and ally to Citysquares. He’s a customer too. The work he’s done for the community, especially the small business community speaks for itself. Look at Davis Square in the 80s. Heck, look at Davis Square just 10 years ago! As hard as some of his naysayers try, no one can take that away from him. Jack might be a bit old school, but look folks, this is Somerville, Massachusetts, not Berkeley, California. Jack’s old school connections and ways are necessary to navigate the political systems in Somerville and greater Boston.

Funny how things happen, huh Jack? See you around buddy!

Moosehead Lodge

I’m going to take a detour from my normal blog topics and talk briefly about a vacation spot. It’s called Moosehead Lodge and it’s in Messines, Quebec. Yes, that’s Canada. It’s about five hours north of Montreal. I’ve been going to Moosehead Lodge since I was two years old – it’s my heaven on Earth.

Moosehead Lodge is on Big Cedar Lake, half of which is an Indian reservation. The summer days are sizzling hot, the evenings are very cool. If you enjoy fresh water fishing, this is the place for you, just make sure you got the best spinning reel (check one at www.reelchase.com/best-shimano-spinning-reels/). 4 lb smallmouth bass are regular catches. The allure of the northern pike is nowhere more alive than in Big Cedar Lake. And the lake trout are plentiful.

If you’ve never experienced the haunting calls of a loon echoing over a still and silent lake in the dusk hours of a Canadian summer night, you’re missing out on an almost spiritual experience. The sun sets at 10pm. The wildlife surrounds you, protected by a wall of trees. The Milky Way is nowhere more visible. The sunsets over the hills surrounding the lake can make an old man cry.

Moosehead Lodge was run for over 30 years by Malcolm Taggart. Mal was one of my best friends. Mal passed away a couple years ago unexpectedly. He had a heart attack while hauling wood with is truck. He died doing what he loved. Malcolm was 69. Malcolm’s wife Corinne, a Hawaiian and a wonderful person, now runs Moosehead Lodge by herself.

If you have any interest in any of the following, send Corinne an email.

  1. You’re so far away from a cell tower that turning on your cell phone yields nothing but laughter from those around you.
  2. Waking up and having a big breakfast in the lodge.
  3. Heading out onto the lake where you’re pretty much the only boat on the water.
  4. Driving your boat along the shoreline and spotting a family of deer, or even a bear, in the water.
  5. Catching a big fish, and having the honor of letting it go.
  6. Sitting on the porch of the lodge sipping a beer, reading a book while taking moments to just look at the lake while the summer breezes envelope you.
  7. Reconnecting with your spouse, your children, your siblings, in a totally serene atmosphere.
  8. Remembering what it’s all about.

Webcast: Localized Search

I am a guest speaker in an Editor & Publisher webcast on May 22. If you can make the time, please join in. Details are as follows…

Stop the Presses! Localized Search is Changing the Newspaper Business


Discover How Your Company Can Take Advantage of This Evolving Model

for this FREE live Web broadcast.

Date: Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Time: 2:00 PM EST / 11:00 AM PST

Join Editor & Publisher for this FAST-sponsored Web Seminar and hear from industry experts how your newspaper operation can break into the localized search market. Attend this online-only event and learn how to overcome the obstacles and how progressive newspapers have already integrated localized search into their business models and have grown their audience and advertising base and how you can do the same.

Whatever the formula for local search inclusion may be, the newspaper industry and news industry in general are looking to get their piece of the pie. But how do newspaper companies tap into the growing local search market? What technology is needed? Is there a chance of cannibalizing the existing print base?

In this session, the following issues will be explored:

Market Size

Trends and Technology

Geotargeted Display Ads

E-mail Campaigns

Classifieds

Local Paid Search

Local Video

Letting Fires Burn

In my experience as an entrepreneur one of the hardest day-to-day battles is prioritizing. As an entrepreneur who is now fortunate enough to be running a funded company, this has never been more true than right now.

I’ve long been a believer in letting fires burn. By that, what I mean is, having priorities, a short list of priorities, and anything that is outside of that list of priorities is ‘a fire and it needs to burn.’

As CEO of Citysquares, my list of priorities is more strategic than it is tactical. For instance, one of the priorities on my list might be “get this damn sales engine firing on all pistons.” Really – that’s written down on a yellow piece of paper on my desk. That priority is a big priority – and it involves lots of tactics, but that doesnt mean I should get bogged down in the tactics. That’s why I hire people. The employees help with the execution, it’s my job to see it through from start to finish. Anything that is not in-line with that priority, strategically or tactically, is a distraction – a non-priority – and it needs to go on the “back burner” as they say. I don’t care for the “back burner” expression. I prefer, instead, to say that it’s a fire and it needs to burn! But hey – that’s what it is. It’s a little brush fire that needs to burn itself out. If the fire grows to be larger than a brush fire, well than it needs attention and someone needs to put it out.

Now that I have a board of directors to answer to, investors to please, goals to meet, a vision to reach, a real and growing staff to manage, this philosophy is only becoming more and more critical. Since we’ve become funded I’ve found myself doing a lot of operational things – things that just need to get done so everyone can get to work and do so more efficiently than ever before. Most of that stuff is done, and I now find myself taking a little time to regroup – to get even more focused, to assess those priorities and get situated and ready to go. I guess I need that once in a while, time to regroup and assess.

Right now, my priority is to assess my priorities. Anything else is a distraction – a fire, and it needs to burn.

Doing this “Local” Thing

Ali made a delicious dinner the other night; lobster ravioli with her own sherry sauce. It was absolutely delicious. I guessed that she handmade the raviolis all by herself, kidding of course (right?). She bought them at Dave’s Fresh Pasta, down the street. At Dave’s you’ll find homemade and handmade pastas – very high quality, gourmet style pastas, sauces, and a lot more. It’s a real gem in the Davis Square neighborhood. Anyway, Ali mentioned how nice the person was, who waited on her. She asked for a loaf of bread, but they were out. He then told her that next time she can call ahead and tell them what she wanted, and they’d have it all ready for her. Well… now…. that, folks, that is good service. And that, you only get from your local merchant.

The kind of service you get at Dave’s Fresh Pasta, the kind of care and treatment you get at Massage Therapy Works, at State Street Barbers, at Porter Square Books, is only the kind of service you find where the ownership is local. You just don’t get that anywhere else.

When I see reviews on Citysquares.com from members of the community, of local businesses,and when I hear stories like Ali’s, or from anyone, I can’t help but feel a strong sense of pride and honor. I’m really quite proud to be doing what we’re doing, for the community, for local commerce, from the members of the community across all areas. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else and feeling so good about it.

I’ve learned so much from Citysquares already. No matter where my career takes me in the short term or long term, I will always make sure that I’m involved in a socially responsible business.