Innovate for the Inevitability

I don’t consider myself a futurist, however I do enjoy thinking, learning, and discovering about new possibilities that will fundamentally change the fabric of society and our day to day lives. Elon Musk famously talked about “Accelerating the Inevitable” as a reason he set-out to create Tesla and SpaceX. For Musk, he believed Electric Vehicles (EV) were as inevitable as is a manned mission to Mars. His motivation wasn’t to create a company that generates huge profits for shareholders, but rather to accelerate what he believed would happen at some point in the future. Both Tesla and SpaceX have pushed new boundaries in innovation and have fundamentally accelerated the Inevitability of EV’s and space travel to Mars and beyond. Whether Tesla and/or SpaceX become market leaders in these categories is yet to be determined, but what Elon Musk and other mavericks like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos has been able to achieve has and will accelerate their vision of inevitability in how they view the future we will experience and live.

If you think about the future and what will be inevitable, you can quickly see how industries will be disrupted, how new types of companies/innovations will be needed, how our society and daily lives as we know them will be effected (positively and negatively) and the types of products and services that could deliver new types of value to fill these voids.

For example, it’s inevitable that we will have automated EV’s in 10 years or less, and within 20 years it’s likely our cultural norm will be to travel in automated EV’s exclusively. So what could this effect and what are other inevitabilities? Continue reading

Yes, we bought a 38 foot RV for a epic trip across the NW and Canada

Eight weeks ago l parted ways from my corporate gig as CEO of BLiNQ Media and have been planning an epic summer trip with my family. My wife (Tovah) and I decided we wanted to see some of the great National Parks in the Northwest US as well as Western Canada (Alberta and British Columbia). We started off thinking we could just rent Airbnb’s and travel with a rented minivan, but soon realized traveling with our daughter Nina (3½), son London (1½) and our two dogs (40 lb and 80 lb) wasn’t going to be easy. So we then had the brilliant idea of doing this in an RV and it solved a lot of the space issues and gave us a lot of freedom to travel. We looked at renting a 22 foot RV but we needed to get something bigger and it was more cost effective to just buy something, especially for a 3+ month trip. Within 10 days we went from renting to buying a brand new 2016 Forest River Georgetown 364TS. IMG_2476It’s an amazing RV that gives us a floor-plan and features that’s perfect for our little adventure. Prior to this experience, Tovah and I knew nothing about RV’s; I can tell you I learnt so much in that 10 days and buying one was an interesting process, especially as its a new model and we’d never seen or test driven one (did all our research online). I can also guarantee that this is the first RV of it’s size (38 foot, with our bike racks it’s 42 foot) to enter the Sherwood Forest neighborhood in Midtown Atlanta. And yes, I was able to back it into our backyard.

We worked with a local RV dealer called National Indoor RV Center (who have been amazing and i’d recommend highly) to special order the RV from the manufacture. It took around 3 weeks to deliver and since then we’ve been doing some test runs to make sure we know how to operate it and get used to living in a smaller moving house on wheels. We’ve also added some safety features and made some tech modifications that will make things easier. As I’m a tech geek, I figured i’d share some of these if anyone was thinking of doing what we are about to do.

Safety Additions

  • Tire On – The Georgetown 364tS has six 22.5 inch wheels (which are big). in the event of a blowout on the front wheels the tires can come off quickly resulting in a horrific RV flipping (see this video). This product prevents the tire from coming off in an event of a blowout and reduce the risk of flipping the RV.
  • Tire monitor sensors – My landscaper, Stan, asked his sister (experienced RV’er) for some advice for us before we take off on our long trip and one of the items she mentioned was a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). I bought the (TireMinder A1A) and installed it before we left on a test run to Cape San Blas (beach vacation that’s a 6+ hour drive). The normal pressure on the RV tires are 90 PSI but the monitor alerted me that the rear inside right tire (dually tires) was only 45 PSI; I would have never noticed the inside rear tire was low otherwise. I bought a portable air compressor called Porter-cable (highly recommended) and got the tire back to 90 PSI. However, by the next morning the TPMS system showed the the same tire had gone down to 79 PSI. We’d planned to leave for the beach in the RV that afternoon, so I called the dealership who arranged for someone to come to our house and fix the tire (again National Indoor RV Center have been amazing). Turns out the issue was a valve stem extender that had a slow leak and the tire was OK. I check the TPMS system before we leave any stop and it can alert me to any issue with any of the tire pressure or temperature issues while driving.
  • Child seat harness – RV’s don’t have the same safety requirements as cars, and although the Georgetown 364TS has seat belts, they are not designed for kids’ car seats. So, we had the dealership make some modifications so we could safely lock down the car seats to a secure anchor point.
  • Bunk Bed Guards – A big reason we bought the Georgetown 364TS was the bunkbeds for the kids. We didn’t want to setup the sofa-bed or dinette every night so the kids could sleep; the built in bunkbeds give the kids a permanent place to call there own. However, the bunkbeds are designed for adults or older kids); i.e. you can easily fall out if you roll over, and that’s very likely for our 3½ and a 1 ½ year olds. I solved this pretty easily by wrapping some MDF wood in nice fabric and wedging it in to act as a guard. Problem solved – kids are not falling out of bed and can still get it to the bed by crawling through the rungs in the ladder.

Some tech I added

  • WiFi Ranger – Because we are constantly moving from one location to another, signing up for WiFi at each location or determining if the WiFi signal/strength is any good can/will be problematic on many levels. For one, entering a new WiFi code for every device (iPhones, iPads, laptops, Apple TV, Amazon Fire Stick, etc.) will get old fast, and with some camp grounds having WiFi only near the registration office, it’s unlikely we’ll get good signals. Lastly, I could use my MiFi, but cellular bandwidth can cost a lot (or not exist in remote areas), especially if we are streaming a bunch of shows (Game of Throne’s season finale anyone? this Sunday! I can’t wait). I found a solution to all my worries. It’s called WiFi Ranger, and it’s perfect for RV’s. I bought the mini pack that includes an Antenna called WiFi Ranger Sky2. The Sky2 mounts on the roof of the RV and can extend your range up to 2500 feet, boosting a weak signal from a distance. Sky2 connects via PoE to a pretty smart router called the WiFi Ranger Mini. The Mini integrates with the Sky2 (but can also find it’s own short distance repeaters) and will tether to my Verizon LTE MiFi via USB (and power the MiFi). The Mini will prioritize a WiFi signal (from the Sky2 or itself) based on signal strength, security, etc. If it can’t find a good WiFi signal it will then go to the MiFi, but will continue to prioritize a free WiFi signal if it becomes available in order to save my MiFi cellular bandwidth. Additionally, the Mini also has a multi-WAN feature that can blend multiple signals together and create hot standby’s incase one WiFi or cellular signal goes down and load balance them all. I also configure it to shut down the MiFi based on the amount of bandwidth my Verizon plan has. If that wasn’t enough, the Mini creates a signal private SSID (called Choudhury-RV) that all our devices connect to (regardless of the WiFi source) and creates an internal network the internal devices can use regardless if you have an internet connection or not (see Plex Server below). The Mini will also attempt to say yes to T&C on WiFi splash pages automatically or if it requires you to enter something, you just have to do it once through the WiFi Ranger control panel and all devices get instant internet without having to check a box or see splash screen. Pretty sweet.
  • Plex Media Server – A big thank you to Marc Kagan for this awesome suggestion. I’m running Plex on my laptop and have my movies, music, and photos mapped so the Plex server can make those available through any device. If your are not familiar with Plex, you need to check it out; the interface is kick ass on desktop, iOS, Android and on other devices. Additionally, Plex just reads your files, determines what they are and downloads additional information such as movie thumbnails, trailer, and meta data of the movie, actors, directors, etc. Because the Plex server just runs on an internal network (the WiFi Ranger Mini), i don’t have to go out to the internet to stream anything to any of my devices. I can use a browser to play any of the content Plex is mapped to, but in most cases I find a Plex app on mobile devices, smart TV’s, Blue-ray players, etc. As an example, in order to view movies on the TV’s on the RV (we have 5, btw, which is crazy), I bought several Amazon Fire Stick that can run the Plex app, so now any TV, even a stand-alone TV not connected to the internet or internal network, can easily stream content from the Plex server (different content per connection). As a side-note, I chose the Fire Stick over chromeCast, Roku, and Apple TV (although i also have an Apple TV in the RV, as I’m a die hard Apple guy) because it’s generally faster, ties easily to my Amazon prime account (free Movies, TV shows, Music, and storage) unlike the Apple TV, has Netflix, Sling TV, HBO, PBS kids, and a whole lot more for $39.
  • Automatic – Again, my friend Marc Kagan hooked me up; he gave me a beta version of Automatic he’d been testing out before they released a general release product. Automatic connects to my vehicle computer system via a standard connector (the one used by your mechanic to figure out why the check engine light is on). It connects to your phone via bluetooth to the Automatic app and can give you all sorts of info, such as the shit gas millage I get from the Ford V10, or that I applied the brakes hard one time today. It can also notify folks if i get in an accident (including the police) and of course I can get notifications on the engine light vaults and clear them myself if I want to:-)

Our journey began Thursday June 11th and I hope to share some stories on this blog as well as Tovah’s blog www.gypsyspirit.net. In fact here is Tovah’s latest blog post; so follow us both and let’s see where this journey takes our family.

Goodbye Promenade Building

Yesterday was my last day as CEO of BLiNQ as we moved forward with the merger of PointRoll, Shoplocal, and BLiNQ Media. I fully support this move as I believe it will make all three companies much stronger in the market place as a combined company and properly leveraging the strong content and data assets owned by Gannett. At the same time, it was hard to make the decision to part ways with the people at BLiNQ and G/O Digital; I’ve had the privilege of getting to know a number of them, and I’ll miss working with them and wish them all the very best as the units come together in the coming months.

I was originally hired into BLiNQ to access the business, re-stabilize the unit, and determine a new vision for the company in a post acquisition era. I’ll leave it to my peers in the industry and to Gannett to determine if I accomplished my objectives.  From my stand-point, I’m extremely proud of what my team was able to accomplish in less than a year; what’s most gratifying to me is that the product strategies and vertical focused pivot I put in place at BLiNQ will be used as the blueprint of the new combined company.

Reflecting back, what’s amazing is that I’ve been at the Promenade building in Midtown, Atlanta since 2004.  First we moved Spunlogic into the 17th floor (from Zonolite Road), then sold Spunlogic (2008) which become Engauge and moved up to the 22nd floor (2010), then sold Engauge to become Moxie (2013) still on the 22nd floor (2015 Razorfish moved into the 22nd floor, space looks great Patricia Camden-Peterson), and lastly, I moved down to the 12th floor as the new CEO of BLiNQ Media (2014). That’s 11 years of great memories and experiences I just said goodbye to.

So what’s next for me? No idea yet, but what I do know is that I’d like to take a little time off. The last 19 months has been pretty crazy for me. Selling Engauge, helping integrate Engauge into Moxie, undertaking an Executive MBA and finishing it a few months ago with an awesome international residency in Vietnam and Thailand, moving from Publicis and taking on the BLiNQ role as CEO, having our second child (who is awesome), and generally traveling a lot and missing out on family time. Wow, pretty crazy when I think back.

Before I jump into the next work adventure, Tovah and I will be heading to the beach for a few weeks and then we are planning an RV trip across the US, Pacific NW, through British Columbia, Yukon, and Alberta. Yes, you read it right, an RV, and no, I’ve never been in an RV before. As we plan more I’ll write about it, but that’s the plan for now.

CES 2014 – Raj’s picks from the show

I just spent last week at CES in Las Vegas and had an absolutely amazing time. This years trip to CES was a little different as I had access to Publicis Groupe events and private parties. Needless to say, I’m just now recovering from the parties!

Here are some of the highlights from CES for me.

  • Qualcomm’s Gimbal Platform – This is a context awareness platform using beacon technology as well as mobile app to create pretty much any awareness situation you can think of.
  • Cisco Retail Solutions – Cisco had some amazing concepts showing how they could connect the entire retail experience with beacon’s, tracking camera’s, and some pretty amazing store level and executive analytic’s (user foot track patterns, inventory, transactions, etc.). They had partnered with Aero Scout for the beacon technology.
    IMG_1076IMG_1077
  • Street Line – Pretty cool stuff when it comes to parking and other data for urban areas. Saw I nice demo with them and Cisco.
  • Google Fiber – I was lucky enough to attend a private meeting with Google to learn more about new products in the market. Outside of getting a nice pair of Google glasses, one of the best road maps I saw was for Google Fiber. Alot of us are familiar with Google Fiber, so I won’t bore you with the details, checkout the site. What’s amazing is the approach Google is taking to dominate the Fiber network not only in the US, but in other countries that have poor infrastructure or countries that have a monopoly (higher prices as a result). If you don’t own Google stock, you should, this one division will dominate the world in 5 years and give Google a diversified portfolio outside of just search. Some interesting terminologies I learned from Google; they call neighborhoods “Fiber Hoods”, their retail stores are called “Fiber Space”. The Google VP in-charge (Milo Medin) of the division was telling me that he has seen credit ratings for cities increase because of Google Fiber (installed city), he also told me that if a house in a Fiber Hood signs up for Google Fiber (free internet), that account stays with the house, so if you sell the house the new owner gets Google Fiber as well, this helps home values and rental values. Not to mention, a city that helps bring in Google Fiber (make it easy for Google in install) gets free fiber to schools, libraries, etc. Milo was clear to point out that he only goes to cities that make it easy for him, it doesn’t matter about the size of the city. Amazing stuff from Google, including how they roll out and install a Fiber Hood. Continue reading

What’s on my current pre-order product list

Over the last 12 to 16 months I per-ordered a number of products and have received them. In general I’ve been really happy with what I got. Pre-ordering is becoming more common, but I’d say that I’d never really done it until I went to CES a few years ago and got excited about specific products I saw. What’s accelerated this even more is sites like Kick Starter and others that have introduced new products/ideas and built confidence in purchasing products pre-release/pre-review.

Here are my top 3 pre-order products I’ve received:

  • Nest – Love it and works perfectly in my house.
  • DropCam – I have 2 of these in my house and have given them out as gifts.
  • Leap Motion – This has been OK, it’s not delivered on the wow for me, but I enjoy using it as entertainment.

Here are my My current pre-orders:

  • Coin – I’m really excited about this card. I hate all the cards I carry in my wallet. Hoping into get this summer 2014.
  • Airo –  Man, this is cool, I’m not into fitness, but know what my body is consuming and tracking this all to help me live well simplifies how I track this and why I won’t do this today. Hoping to get this in fall 2014.
  • Tesla Model X – I’ve been excited about this SUV. I put in my pre-order in early 2012. This is a big purchase item for a pre-order that I haven’t seen/touched. I can’t wait. Hoping to get this in early 2014, we’ll see.
  • August – I loved the design and simplicity of this home lock system. Lots of new products coming out, I’m hoping this one is the winner and it simplifies life again. Hoping to get this in early 2014.

What else should I consider?

Widespread use of Mobile Payment through NFC just needs Apple

Apple is rumored to have well over 200 million+ users on iTunes with registered credit cards. That would make future iPhones enabled with Near Field Communications (NFC) chips an absolute dominator in mobile payments.  So what’s the hold up?

It’s rumored that Apple believes NFC standards are not wide spread enough and might be developing their own NFC standards. Although NFC has been slow to materialize in the US, the technology is pretty wide spread in Asia and Europe. 750,000 point-of-sale terminals already exist in the US, so all we are waiting for are NFC enabled devices. A number of mobile manufactures in the US such as Nokia, Samsung, Google, etc. have already released devices and it’s speculated that 50 million NFC-enabled devices worldwide will exist by the end of the year.

Apple has such an advantage with iTunes registered credit cards unlike any other retailer or manufacturing, they could literally define how we interact with NFC and make the use of mobile payments and more a reality faster than anyone. Continue reading

The future of our digital world – SixthSense Technology

Wow, after watching this video my perception of the future just dramatically changed. I know we all say we live in a digital world; everyone is connected to the internet, we all have cell phones, and pretty much everyone I know is connected to a social network of some sort.

I’d like to think I have a good sense of what the future looks like, but Pranav Mistry’s ground breaking work with SixthSense technology has really changed what I thought was possible and opened my eyes to a future I hadn’t fully realized. A while ago I got excited about Microsoft surface that uses similar technologies but I never thought we’d be able to combine the use of everyday objects into our digital life and vice-versa so quickly and in so many ways (demonstrated in the video).

Click to Watch the video all the way!

Oh did I mention Pranav is providing this technology open source to the world.

Why proximity-based apps are relevant for customer pull

Published on February 24th, MobileMarketer.com 

Distressed inventory in the travel business is the unsold hotel rooms and airplane seats that become available at the last minute on travel Web sites at fire-sale prices.

But a hotel manager in the near future could be relying on a proximity-based bidding network to convert a cancellation into a booking.

Today, travel brands typically attract consumers to peruse these bargain-priced goodies by dumping them on a travel portal – hotwire.com, priceline.com, Orbitz – or by sending promotional emails and text alerts to email addresses and mobile phones.

Yet a proximity-based marketing network could advertise discounted rooms to travelers driving along the interstate when they are just miles from the property. Room offers could be dispatched to car navigation systems and trigger an alert on the screen. Continue reading

Microsoft Surface Has Arrived

It somehow feels wrong to promote Microsoft in general, but lately I’ve been wowed by some of their innovative products and software. I expect this out of Apple or Google, but when I saw previews online of Microsoft Surface from CES 2008 earlier in the year, I was wowed. It also got me wondering if this might ever become commonplace in our lives.

If you’ve never seen Microsoft Surface check out the video below.

AT&T has already started to roll these units out at some of their wireless stores, so it’s well worth a visit to check it out; and while you’re there, give yourself another reason to play with the iPhone. ;)

When I began writing this post, my intent was to just share a cool new toy with everyone, but what really dawned on me was how fast things were changing, and how as an agency we’d be at the forefront designing these new types of experiences for consumers.

Ten years ago as a start-up agency, my universe was fairly limited to websites, emails, and the very sexy work of corporate extranets. Now we are diving into Second life, Facebook apps, mobile apps, and hopefully (with the blessing of a nice client) Microsoft Surface experiences. Digital experiences are becoming increasingly important. As an agency, the way we create strategies and design and develop them to their full potential needs to change and adapt all the time.

It’s fair to say that agencies sometimes dive into unknown territories – were no case studies exist, no proven numbers. It’s always a risk for both the client and the agency to dive into uncharted waters, but rewards are high when you nail it. The point I’m trying to make is that we, with our smart people and unbelievable clients, could in the near future have an opportunity to work on a project the involves Microsoft Surface or any other progressive digital experience. I guess this is why we all love working for an agency like Engauge, it’s the chance to work on something others might only read about.

If you want to get wowed by another Microsoft product check out Photosynth, it will blow you away.

Have the Disruptors Impacted Us? Part One of Three

About a year and a half+ ago I read a fascinating article in Business 2.0 magazine called “The Disruptors“. The article was published in September 2006, and to date is one of the most eye opening articles I’ve read. The article talks about 11 companies with 11 big ideas that would change everything, or more accurately change industries, destroy established companies, and even change how we do things day to day. So today I started reading another article in Information Week called “5 Disruptive Technologies To Watch In 2008” that talks about virtualization, and that I’ve always been a big believer in both on the server and web application/services side. The more recent article in InformationWeek was definitely more geared towards technology disruptors, and to be frank wasn’t such a surprise to me. Anyway it got me thinking about the old Business 2.0 article, and how eye opening the “big ideas” were, so I decided to re-look at the ideas and determine if there were still strong disruptor candidates. Continue reading

Reviewing the Innovations of Tomorrow

One of my roles at Spunlogic (and a personal passion) is to review emerging technologies and new innovative concepts. Over the last several months I’ve been on various Beta teams, reviewing what I think are very exciting concepts to our industry that I’d like to share with the masses.

Coghead (http://www.coghead.com/)
Coghead is probably one of the most exciting concepts that is actually becoming a reality. I joined the Beta team about 9 months ago, and am excited to say the product just got released a few weeks ago. Coghead, in essence, is a do-it-yourself web application platform. It allows business users to build complex applications using logic and business components through a user interface “wizard”. No coding language or database knowledge is needed. You can search for applications other users have shared (free or buy), copy them and modify the logic/data structure as needed. It can create multiple access rights for various users and essentially replace enterprise level software if done right. I like Coghead for many reasons, but most of all it allows me to play with concept applications very easily to determine the logic I’ll need, the data structure and the interface screens that make sense without having to involve development in any way. For example, I’ve been playing around to create an asset management system, as well as a robust employee records system. The future is end-less for this on-demand service, and large software companies need to take a serious look at how this type of product could impact them.

Joost (http://www.joost.com/)
What can I say? I LOVE Joost. It’s my new way of watching TV and sharing what I like in a community. I finally got into the Beta team about 7 months ago. To be honest, the performance of the product/service wasn’t great; but, as they improved the software I started to experience what they were talking about. Live High Definition TV on my laptop, with great controls and features. I was recently allowed to share Joost with a limited number of friends, and I’m curious to see their feedback. Prior to Joost I’d been using BitTorrent (http://www.bittorrent.com/). And, in my opinion, Joost kicks the Torrent concept and is going to be the new wave of how we watch TV, at least on our Laptops, etc. Continue reading