Posts Tagged 'Startups Tag'

July 19, 2013

Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Transcending Borders

At Cloud World Forum in London, I did an interview with Rachel Downie of CloudMovesTV, and she asked some fantastic questions (full interview embedded a the bottom of this post). One that particularly jumped out to me was, "Does North America have a technology and talent advantage over Europe?" I've posted some thoughts on this topic on the SoftLayer Blog in the past, but I thought I'd reflect on the topic again after six months of traveling across Europe and the Middle East talking with customers, partners and prospects.

I was born just north of Silicon Valley in a little bohemian village called San Francisco. I earned a couple of trophies (and even more battle scars) during the original dot-com boom, so much of my early career was spent in an environment bursting at the seams with entrepreneurs and big ideas. The Valley tends to get most of the press (and all of the movie contracts), so it's easy to assume that the majority of the world's innovation is happening around there. I have first-hand experience that proves that assumption wrong. The talent level, motivation, innovation, technology and desire to make a difference is just as strong, if not stronger, in Europe and the Middle East as it is in the high-profile startup scenes in New York City or San Francisco. And given the level of complexity due to the cultural and language differences, I would argue the innovation that happens in the Middle East and Europe tends to incorporate more flexibility and global scalability earlier than its North American counterparts.

A perfect example of this type of innovation is the ad personalization platform that London-based Struq created. Earlier this year, I presented with Struq CTO Aaron McKee during the TFM&A (Technology For Marketing and Advertising) show in London about how cloud computing helps their product improve online customer dialogue, and I was stunned by how uniquely and efficiently they were able to leverage the cloud to deliver meaningful, accurate results to their customers. Their technology profiles customers, matches them to desired brands, checks media relevance and submits an ad unit target price to auction. If there is a match, Struq then serves a hyper-relevant message to that customer. And all of that in about 25 milliseconds and is happening at scale (over two billion transactions per day). Add in the fact that they serve several different cultures and languages, and you start to understand the work that went into creating this kind of platform. Watch out Valley Boyz and Girlz, they're expanding into the US.

One data point of innovation and success doesn't mean a whole lot, but Struq's success isn't unique. I just got back from Istanbul where I spent some time with Peak Games to learn more about how they became the 3rd largest social gaming company in the world and what SoftLayer could to to help support their growth moving forward. Peak Games, headquartered in Turkey, is on an enviable growth trajectory, and much of their success has come from their lean, focused operations model and clear goals. With more than 30 million customers, it's clear that the team at Peak Games built a phenomenal platform (and some really fun games). Ten years ago, a development team from Turkey may have had to move into a cramped, expensive house in Palo Alto to get the resources and exposure they needed to reach a broader audience, but with the global nature of cloud computing, the need to relocate to succeed is antiquated.

I met a wild-eyed entrepreneur at another meeting in Istanbul who sees exactly what I saw. The region is full of brilliant developers and creative entrepreneurs, so he's on a mission to build out a more robust startup ecosystem to help foster the innovation potential of the region. I've met several people in different countries doing the same thing, but one thing that struck me as unusual about this vision was that he did not say anything about being like Silicon Valley. He almost laughed at me when I asked him about that, and he explained that he wanted his region to be better than Silicon Valley and that his market has unique needs and challenges that being "like Silicon Valley" wouldn't answer. North America is a big market, but it's one of many!

The startups and gaming companies I mentioned get a lot of the attention because they're fun and visible, but the unsung heroes of innovation, the intraprenuers (people who behave like entrepreneurs within large organizations), are the clear and powerful heartbeat of the talent in markets outside of North America. These people are not driven by fame and fortune ... They just want to build innovative products because they can. A mad scientist from one of the largest consumer products firms in the world, based in the EU, just deployed a couple of servers to build an imaging ecosystem that is pushing the limits of technology to improve human health. Another entrepreneur at a large global media company is taking a Mobile First methodology to develop a new way to distribute and consume media in the emerging cross-platform marketplace. These intrapreneurs might not live in Palo Alto or Santa Clara, but they're just as capable to change the world.

Silicon Valley still produces inspiring products and groundbreaking technology, but the skills and expertise that went into those developments aren't confined by borders. To all you innovators across the globe building the future, respect. Working with you is my favorite part of the job.

-@jpwisler

The full interview that inspired this blog post:

July 10, 2013

The Importance of Providing Startups a Sandbox

With the global economy in its current state, it's more important than ever to help inspired value-creators acquire the tools needed to realize their ideas, effect change in the world, and create impact — now. I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of young, innovative companies through Catalyst and our relationships with startup accelerators, incubators and competitions, and I've noticed that the best way for entrepreneurs to create change is to simply let them play! Stick them in a sandbox with a wide variety of free products and services that they can use however they want so that they may find the best method of transitioning from idea to action.

Any attention that entrepreneurs divert from their core business ideas is wasted attention, so the most successful startup accelerators build a bridge for entrepreneurs to the resources they need — from access to hosting service, investors, mentors, and corporate partners to recommendations about summer interns and patent attorneys. That all sounds good in theory, and while it's extremely difficult to bring to reality, startup-focused organizations like MassChallenge make it look easy.

During a recent trip to Boston, I was chatting with Kara Shurmantine and Jibran Malek about what goes on behind the scenes to truly empower startups and entrepreneurs, and they gave me some insight. Startups' needs are constantly shifting, changing and evolving, so MassChallenge prioritizes providing a sandbox chock-full of the best tools and toys to help make life easier for their participants ... and that's where SoftLayer helps. With Kara and Jibran, I got in touch with a few MassChallenge winners to get some insight into their experience from the startup side.

Tish Scolnik, the CEO of Global Research Innovation & Technology (GRIT), described the MassChallenge experience perfectly: "You walk in and you have all these amazing opportunities in front of you, and then in a pretty low pressure environment you can decide what you need at a specific moment." Tish calls it a "buffet table" — an array of delectable opportunities, some combination of which will be the building blocks of a startup's growth curve. Getting SoftLayer products and services for free (along with a plethora of other valuable resources) has helped GRIT create a cutting-edge wheelchair for disabled people in developing countries.

The team from Neumitra, a Silver Winner of MassChallenge 2012, chose to use SoftLayer as an infrastructure partner, and we asked co-founder Rob Goldberg about his experience. He explained that his team valued the ability to choose tools that fit their ever-changing and evolving needs. Neumitra set out to battle stress — the stress you feel every day — and they've garnered significant attention while doing so. With a wearable watch, Neumitra's app tells you when your stress levels are too high and you need to take a break.

Jordan Fliegal, the founder and CEO of CoachUp, another MassChallenge winner, also benefited from playing around in the sandbox. This environment, he says, is constantly "giving to you and giving to you and giving to you without asking for anything in return other than that you work hard and create a company that makes a difference." The result? CoachUp employs 20 people, has recruited thousands of judges, and has raised millions in funding — and is growing at breakneck speed.

If you give inspired individuals a chance and then give them not only the resources that they need, but also a diverse range of resources that they could need, you are guaranteed to help create global impact.

In short: Provide a sandbox. Change the world.

-@KelleyHilborn

May 27, 2013

Tech Wildcatters Pitch Day (From a Unique Perspective)

In a classic scene from Duck Soup, Groucho Marx (as Rufus T. Firefly) is given a report, and he responds, "Why a four-year-old child could understand this report. Run out and find me a four-year-old child. I can't make head or tail out of it." That deadpan line may have come from a movie that was released in 1933, but it alludes to an idea that's relevant to this day: Younger generations have a unique perspective, and their insights can be extremely valuable. James, my nine-year-old son, has a seemingly innate understanding of technology, and after watching TechStars Cloud graduates deliver their demo day pitches last year, he became very interested in startups. I can say this authoritatively because he's been bugging me for month to let him go to another session.

With his school year winding down, I decided I'd make a deal with him: He could join me at the Tech Wildcatters Pitch Day, but he'd have to write a blog about what he learned about each of the companies. When I saw the post he wrote, I realized that having a nine-year-old listen to elevator pitches from startups provides a great barometer for how well a presenter expressed the company's value proposition. I'll turn the floor over to James and let him share what he learned about the eleven companies that presented at #TWPitchDay2013:

Tech Wildcatters Demo Day

Today I went to the Granada Theater in Dallas with my dad to meet start up companies. They were doing presentations to investors to raise money.

My dad did the introduction for HedgeChatter. I really did not understand what the do, but my dad said they did "DID": They turn Data into Information so people can make better Decisions. Not sure what that really means but he seems to like their business.

Here is a quick summary of each of the companies and what they do:

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayVonciergeVoncierge.com@LittleDressBook
Voncierge is a virtual wedding website that lets brides find the time and day for appointments in a short time.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayKlick PushKlickPush.com@KlickPush
Klick Push is redefining online advertising by intersecting it with digital music.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayGroupRaiseGroupRaise.com@GroupRaise
GroupRaise is a platform for charitable organizers to set up fundraisers online at local restaurants.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayScribeSenseScribeSense.com@ScribeSense
ScribeSense is a better way to track and improve student learning. Their online platform grades.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayCrowdFeedCrowdFeed.co@CrowdFeed
CrowdFeed is an app that has a huge market, making music and merchandise available on the spot.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DaySmokePhoneSmokePhone.com@SmokePhone
Smokephone is a site that lets you save your ten precious digits from strangers, and then you can delete them at any time.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayHedgeChatterHedgeChatter.com@HedgeChatter
HedgeChatter is a social analytics tool for the stock market. It helps investors make more money in less time (from 12 hours to 6).

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DaySocialGlimpzSocialGlimpz.com@SocialGlimpz
SocialGlimpz is a market insight tool to glean insights from users and build consumer strategy. It is an alternative to slow, expensive tools in the market.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayTalentizeTalentize.com@Talentize
Talentize is a website that lets DJs, actor, singers, artist, and models showcase themselves for jobs.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo Day501Fund501Fund.com@501Fund
501Fund is a company that helps with fundraising and saving money.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DaySecure PressIDSecurePressID.com@SecurePressID
SecurepressID is a security company that lets your hand be the username and login to protect from hackers.

 

My favorite of all companies was GroupRaise. I like it because I like helping people, and that is what they do too! Klick Push was great too. They give you prizes like free music for getting to new levels in games. Maybe they can do that for Minecraft.

This is the second time I went to an event like this. Last year I met a lot of cool companies that came to Dallas from San Antonio. My dad said they were part of something called TechStars Cloud. I even presented to them about Steve Jobs. That made me nervous, but it was worth it.

I am already excited about going to my next demo day. And maybe someday I will be on the stage with a new idea.

-James Karidis

Tech Wildcatters Demo Day

May 22, 2013

Catalyst at SXSW 2013: Startup Community Partners

Much of the buzz you've heard about Catalyst has to do with our relationships with the entrepreneurs and startups we support around the world. That buzz is understandable since the hosting, mentorship and networking perks of the program are the most visible aspects of the program, but to truly understand why Catalyst has been so successful, we have to shine the spotlight on our partner organizations in the startup community. Without close ties to the most powerful and successful startup-focused organizations, my team would have a much tougher time meeting and introducing the best and brightest startups to SoftLayer's platform.

When the folks on the Community Development team are not working directly with the companies in the Catalyst, they're looking for opportunities to help and serve our huge network of business incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces and startup events. As a result, we stay pretty busy. To give you an idea of what a given month looks like for us, Catalyst is supporting seventeen different startup-related events in six different countries over the course of the next thirty days. We're lucky that we love what we do so much ... Otherwise, that schedule might seem pretty daunting.

If you've been an avid SoftLayer Blog reader (as you should be), you know that we work closely with organizations like TechStars and 500 Startups, but you haven't heard much about the other types of partnerships we build in the startup community. We want to provide Catalyst companies with resources outside of hosting that can make their lives easier, and that means we have to find killer partners that focus specifically on the needs and wants of startup companies. To give you an idea of what those partners look like, I'd like to introduce you to a few of them via their video interviews from SoftLayer's Catalyst Startup Lounge at SXSW:

As we've done with the Startups Speak interviews, we'll be adding videos from our partners to the YouTube playlist above so that you can meet them and learn more about the value they uniquely provide to the startup community.

I'd love to take more time to explain how we incorporate services from these partners in the Catalyst program, but I think I'm late for a plane to Vancouver ... or Chicago ... or New York ... or San Francisco. In any case, I should probably head to the airport.

-@PaulFord

April 26, 2013

Catalyst at SXSW 2013: The Startups Speak

SoftLayer listens to customers. There's no marketing spin or fluff on that statement ... I'm a former client, so I can attest to that from a customer perspective and from an internal perspective. When I joined the company as part of the community development team to work with startups in Catalyst, I knew my role was going to be more relationship-based than project-oriented, and that was one of the most exciting aspects of the job for me.

In my last blog about mentorship and meaningfulness, you heard from George Karidis and Paul Ford about the vision to make Catalyst a part of the startup ecosystem, committing to helping participating teams with more than just their hosting needs. While we attended SXSW Interactive, I ran into a few of our phenomenal customers and had the opportunity to sit down with them and talk about their businesses, their connection to SoftLayer and what the future holds:

Over the next few weeks, we'll add video interviews to that YouTube playlist to show off all of the startups that stopped by the Catalyst Startup Lounge at SXSW 2013. When a new video is published, it'll be added to the embedded playlist above, and we'll send some social media shout-outs via Twitter and Facebook.

With SoftLayer's 7th birthday coming up on May 5, we still feel like a startup, and a lot of that has to do with how closely we work with our customers ... Their energy is contagious, and it only encourages us to keep innovating and building our platform for the future. That's why entrepreneurs like the ones you meet in these videos choose SoftLayer. The fact that we have better technology and provide a more powerful cloud infrastructure winds up being a fringe benefit.

A big "Thanks!" goes out to the folks from Epic Playground, Flowmio, Medved, Urbane, YouNoodle, KeenIO, Cloudability and Preferred Return for taking time out of their busy SXSW schedules to chat with me. We love you guys!

-@JoshuaKrammes

April 12, 2013

Catalyst at SXSW 2013: Mentorship and Meaningfulness

In the Community Development group, our mission is simple: Create the industry's most substantially helpful startup program that assists participants in a MEANINGFUL way. Meaningfulness is a subjective goal, but when it comes to fueling new businesses, numbers and statistics can't tell the whole story. Sure, we could run Catalyst like some of the other startup programs in the infrastructure world and gauge our success off of the number of partners using the hosting credits we provide, but if we only focused on hosting credits, we'd be leaving a significant opportunity on the table.

SoftLayer is able to offer the entrepreneurial community so much more than cloud computing instances and powerful servers. As a startup ourselves not so long ago, our team knows all about the difficulties of being an entrepreneur, and now that we're able to give back to the startup community, we want to share battle stories and lessons learned. Mentorship is one of the most valuable commodities for entrepreneurs and business founders, and SoftLayer's mentors are in a unique position to provide feedback about everything from infrastructure planning to hiring your first employees to engaging with your board of advisors to negotiating better terms on a round of funding.

The Catalyst team engages in these kinds discussions with our clients every day, and we've had some pretty remarkable success. When we better understand a client's business, we can provide better feedback and insight into the infrastructure that will help that business succeed. In other words, we build meaningful relationships with our Catalyst clients, and as a result, those clients are able to more efficiently leverage the hosting credits we provide them.

The distinction between Catalyst and other startup programs in the hosting industry has never been so apparent than after South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin this year. I had the opportunity to meet with entrepreneurs, investors, and industry experts who have been thirsting for a program like Catalyst for years, and when they hear about what we're doing, they know they've found their oasis. I had a chance to sit down with Paul Ford in the Catalyst Startup Lounge at SXSW to talk about the program and some of the insights and feedback we'd gotten at the show:

Paul was quick to point out that being a leader in the startup community has more impact when you provide the best technology and pair that with a team that can deliver for startups what they need: meaningful support.

Later, I had an impromptu coffee with one of the world's largest, most prestigious Silicon Valley-based venture capital firms — probably THE most respected venture capital firm in the world, actually. As we chatted about the firm's seed-funding practices, the investment partner told me, "There is no better insurance policy for an infrastructure company than what SoftLayer is doing to ensure success for its startup clients." And I thought that was a pretty telling insight.

That simple sentence drove home the point that success in a program like Catalyst is not guaranteed by a particular technology, no matter how innovative or industry-leading that technology may be. Success comes from creating value BEYOND that technology, and when I sat down with George Karidis, he shared a few insights how the Catalyst vision came to be along with how the program has evolved to what it is today:

Catalyst is special. The relationships we build with entrepreneurs are meaningful. We've made commitments to have the talented brainpower within our own walls to be accessible to the community already. After SXSW, I knew I didn't have to compare what we were doing from what other programs are doing because that would be like comparing apples and some other fruit that doesn't do nearly as much for you as apples do.

I was told once on the campaign trail for President Clinton in '96 that so long as you have a rock-solid strategy, you cannot be beaten if you continue to execute on that strategy. Execute, Execute, Execute. If you waiver and react to the competition, you're dead in the water. With that in mind, we're going to keep executing on our strategy of being available to our Catalyst clients and actively helping them solve their problems. The only question that remains is this:

How can we help you?

-@JoshuaKrammes

March 26, 2013

Should My Startup Join an Accelerator/Incubator Program?

As part of my role at SoftLayer, I have the opportunity and privilege to mentor numerous entrepreneurs and startup teams when they partner with us through our Catalyst program. One question I hear often is, "Should I join an accelerator?" My answer: "That all depends." Let's look at the five lessons entrepreneurs should learn before they decide to join a startup accelerator or incubator program.

Lesson 1: The founders must be committed to the success of their venture.
Joining an accelerator or incubator comes with some strings attached — startups give up between 6 to 10 percent of their equity in exchange for some cash and structured program that usually lasts around three months. Obviously, this kind of commitment should not be taken lightly.

Too often, startups join accelerator programs before they are ready or mature enough as a team. Sometimes, a company's idea isn't fully baked, so they end up spending as much time "creating" their business as they do "accelerating" it. As a result, that company isn't able to leverage an accelerator's resources efficiently throughout the entire program ... The founders need to establish a vision for the business, begin laying the groundwork for the company's products and services, and be 100% committed to the accelerator program before joining. If you can't say with confidence that your startup meets all three of those requirements, don't do it. Take care of those three points and proceed to the next lesson.

Lesson 2: Be prepared to leverage what you are given.
Many startups join accelerator and incubator programs with unrealistic expectations. Participation in these programs — even the most exclusive and well-known ones — by no means guarantees that you'll raise additional money or have a successful exit. These programs provide startups with office space, free cloud services, and access to mentors, investors, recruiters and media ... Those outstanding services provide participating startups with a distinct competitive advantage, but they don't serve up success on a silver platter. If you aren't ready work tirelessly to leverage the benefits of a startup program, don't bother.

Lesson 3: Take advice and criticism well; mentors are trying to help.
"Mentorship" is very tough to qualify, and criticism is difficult to take ... Especially if you're 100% committed to your business and you don't want to be told that you've done something wrong. Mentors in these startup programs have "been there and done that," and they wouldn't be in a mentorship position if they weren't looking out for your best interest and the ultimate success of your company.

Look programs that take mentorship seriously and can provide a broad range of expertise from strategy to marketing and business development to software architecture to building and scaling IT infrastructure. Then be intentional about listening to the people around you.

Lesson 4: Do your research and make an informed decision.
With the proliferation of startups globally, we're also seeing an evolution in the accelerator ecosystem. There are a number accelerators being positioned to help support founders with ideas on a global, regional and local basis, but it's important to evaluate a program's vision with its execution of that vision. Not all startup programs are created equal, and some might not offer the right set of resources and opportunities for your team. When you're giving up equity in your company, you should have complete confidence that the accelerator or incubator you join will deliver on its side of the deal.

Lesson 5: Leverage the network and community you will meet.
When you've done your homework, applied and been accepted to the perfect startup program, meet everyone you can and learn from them. One of the most tangible benefits of joining an accelerator is the way you can fast track a business idea while boosting network contacts. Much in the way someone chooses a prestigious college or joins a fraternity, some of the most valuable resources you'll come across in these programs are the people you meet. In this way, accelerators and incubators are becoming a proxy for undergrad and graduate school ... The appeal for promising entrepreneurs is simple: Why wait to make a dent in the universe? Today, more people are going to college and fewer are landing well-paying jobs after graduation, so some of the world's best and brightest are turning to these communities and foregoing the more structured "higher education" process.

Even if your startup is plugging along smoothly, a startup accelerator or incubator program might be worth a look. Venture capitalists often trust programs like TechStars and 500 Startups to filter or vet early stage companies. If your business has the stamp of approval from one of these organizations, it's decidedly less risky than a business idea pitched by a random entrepreneur.

If you understand each of these lessons and you take advantage of the resources and opportunities provided by startup accelerators and incubators, the sky is the limit for your business. Now get to work.

Class dismissed.

-@gkdog

March 8, 2013

India: Using Global Technology to Go Hyper-Local

Bill Gates once told a journalist that everyone should care about developments in India because the world's largest democracy (of 1.2 billion people) and tenth-largest economy is quickly catching up with us. I recently had the opportunity to see those developments first-hand, and I wholeheartedly agree with Bill's sentiment. Innovation and technology breakthroughs are not owned by or limited to the United States, and as international markets mature, we're going to see more and more entrepreneurship and startup activity overseas. Now I don't mean to imply that the demise of Silicon Valley is imminent, but its influence will be greatly diminished in the future, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I just returned from a round-the-world trip that included nearly two weeks in India as part of a 500 Startups-sponsored market exploration tour called Geeks on a Plane. The tour stopped through Bangalore, Mumbai and New Delhi, with meetups for local entrepreneurs, startups, investors and some of the most influential companies in India's technology ecosystem. While in India, I had the chance to meet several SoftLayer customers — including Zoomin, PowerWeave, and Vidya Mantra — and their insight into the growing technology culture in the region was eye-opening.

India

One of the most interesting characteristics shared by many of the entrepreneurs I spoke with was that they were building businesses with a "hyper-local" focus: Unique business models that are specifically geared toward serving local communities while leveraging the latest technologies in mobility and e-commerce. This distinction is particularly noteworthy because they didn't assume that they'd need to succeed in the US market or compete with companies in the US to build their businesses ... And they're absolutely right. The opportunities that exist for hyper-local entrepreneurs in these emerging markets are staggering.

FlipKart is known as "The Amazon of India." It's very similar to the online shopping giant most of us know and use regularly, but with some unique regional twists. For example, because credit card and electronic payments in India are not as prevalent or reliable as they are in much of the world, orders are taken via both an online ordering system and through FlipKart call centers. Once processed, a highly developed network of "scooters" delivers about 50 percent of FlipKart's orders, and the payment is provided at the customer's door — IN CASH. While that might seem simplistic, each courier has a smartphone that allows them to become a geo-located, connected, data sharing entity. Hundreds of millions of dollars in FlipKart orders are delivered each year with very few issues, despite the fact that most of us can't even imagine how the company could operate that way in the US.

Another great example of how innovators are using technology to redefine businesses is redBus, India's largest bus ticketing company. A huge percentage of travel in India is done very inexpensively by bus, and before redBus came on the scene, travelers took their chances by buying tickets through middlemen and ticket brokers, often getting ripped off or becoming victims of double-booking. By centralizing the ticketing process, redBus is able to provide a reliable way to book a seat on any of India's vast system of buses via phone, online or in person. redBus offers the largest selection of bus seats in the country with over 350 bus operators and a flexible network of boarding points, timing and bus types. It's an incredibly simple service that meets a clear need for a hyper-local audience by leveraging the technologies being built and improved around the world.

If my two weeks in India taught me one thing, it was that the startups don't need to conquer international markets ... They can strive to service their local communities and interests, and they'll be just as successful (if not more). Our Catalyst program has just begun its international expansion into India, and the future certainly looks bright. In fact, I'm proud to announce that we've already signed up our first Catalyst program member in India with many more to come!

As we continue working with startup communities around the globe, I learn more and more about how the world is changing, and I get a stronger appreciation for the cultural and economic ties that bind us all together.

Stay tuned!

-@gkdog

February 20, 2013

Global Game Jam: Build a Video Game in 48 Hours

You're a conflicted zombie that yearns to be human again. Now you've got to dodge grandma and babies in an 8-bit side-scroller. Now you're Vimberly Koll, and you have to stop Poseidon from raining down on the Global Game Jam. At the end of Global Game Jam Vancouver, teams of developers, 3D artists, level designers and sound engineers conceptualized and created these games (along with a number of others) in less than 48 hours. Building a game in a weekend is no small task, so only the best and brightest game developers in the world converge on over 300 sites in 63 countries to show off their skills.

For the fifth annual Global Game Jam, more than 16,000 participants committed a weekend to learning from and collaborating with their peers in a worldwide game development hackathon. I was lucky enough to get to sit in on the action in Vancouver, and I thought I'd give you a glimpse into how participants make game development magic happen in such a short period of time.

Vancouver Global Game Jam

Day 1 (Friday Night): The Brainstorm
More than 260 participants poured into an open study area of the Life Sciences building at the Univerity of British Columbia to build the next best distraction ... er, video game. The event kicked off with a keynote from Brian Proviciano, a game development prodigy, who shared his history and offered sage advice for those interested in the industry. Following a comical 20-second idea pitch session, the caffeine began to flow and the brainstorm commenced.

Inspiration could come from anywhere, and a perfect example is the "Poseidon" game I mentioned above: GGJVancouver organizer Kimberly Voll had sprinklers rain on her office a few days prior to the event, so someone decided to make a game out of that situation. This year, the Global Game Jam introduced an interesting twist that they called "diversifiers." Diversifiers are side-challenges for extra credit, and two of my favorites were "Atari Age" — the game has to be smaller than 4kb — and "May the (Web) Force be With You" — the game has to run in a browser.

Fast-forward two hours, and as you look around, you see storyboards and scripts being written, characters being born, and a few intrepid developers starting to experiment with APIs, game engines , and external controllers to find some additional flair for their final products. You wouldn't expect a game made in 48 hours to incorporate an iOS Eye Tracking API or the Leap Motion gesture controller, but these developers are ambitious!

As the concepts are finalized, team members rotate in and out for sleep, and some even go home to get some rest — a good idea on the first night since everyone usually pulls an all-nighter on Saturday.

Vancouver Global Game Jam

Day 2 (Saturday): Laying the Foundation
It was cool to walk the aisles and peer over peoples' shoulders as musical scores, wrangled code and character models were coming together. However, the scene wasn't all smiles and hugs; a few groups were wrestling quirky bugs and integration issues, and in some cases, they ended up having to completely reboot their approach. Day 2 set the course for all of the teams. A few teams disbanded due to disagreements or unfixable bugs, and some developers peeled off from their teams to follow an untamed passion. In the Global Game Jam, there are no rules ... only games.

Vancouver Global Game Jam

Day 3 (Sunday): Sleep, What's That?
By Day 3, the building starts feeling like a college dorm during finals week when everyone is staying up all night to study or finish their comp-sci assignments (I know it wasn't just me...). Running on various vehicles of caffeine, teams worked heads-down all day to meet their 3pm deadline. Sighs of relief and high fives were exchanged when the games were submitted, and the event concluded with a pizza party and demo session where everyone could see and share the fruits of their labor.

Vancouver Global Game Jam

As I left the conference, teams were given the opportunity to showcase their games on the big screen to a chorus of laughter and applause. It was an awesome experience, and I'm glad SoftLayer sponsored it so that I could attend, take it all in and meet a ton of outstanding up-and-coming game developers. If you're into making games (or you've thought about it), check out the Global Game Jam one of these years.

Just don't forget to bring deodorant ... for your neighbor's sake.

-@andy_mui

Photo Credit Shout-Outs: Alex Larente, Ligia Brosch, Naz Madani. Great shots!

February 12, 2013

From the Startup Trenches to the Catalyst War Room

Before joining SoftLayer, I was locked in a dark, cold room for two years. Sustained by a diet of sugar and caffeine and basking in the glow of a 27" iMac, I was tasked with making servers dance to the tune of Ruby. The first few months were the toughest. The hours were long, and we worked through holidays. And I loved it.

If that work environment seems like torture, you probably haven't been on the front lines of a development team. I was a member of a band of brothers at war with poorly documented vendor APIs, trying to emerge victorious from the Battle of Version 1.0. We operated (and suffered) like a startup in its early stages, so I've had firsthand experience with the ups and downs of creating and innovating in technology. Little did I know that those long hours and challenges were actually preparing me to help hundreds of other developers facing similar circumstances ... I was training to be a Catalyst SLayer:

Catalyst Team

You probably know a lot about Catalyst by now, but one of the perks of the program that often gets overshadowed by "free hosting" is the mentorship and feedback the SoftLayer team provides every Catalyst participant. Entrepreneurs bounce ideas off of guys like Paul Ford and George Karidis to benefit from the years of experience and success we've experienced, and the more technical folks can enlist our help in figuring out more efficient ways to tie their platforms to their infrastructure.

When I was forging through the startup waters, I was fortunate to have been supported by financially reinforced walls and the skilled engineers of a well-established hosting company in Tokyo. Unfortunately, that kind of support is relatively uncommon. That's where Catalyst swoops in. SoftLayer's roots were planted in the founders' living rooms and garages, so we're particularly fond of other companies who are bootstrapping, learning from failure and doing whatever it takes to succeed. In my role with Catalyst, I've effectively become a resource for hundreds of startups around the world ... and that feels good.

Five days before my official start date, I receive a call from Josh telling me that we'd be spending my first official week on the job in Seattle with Surf Incubator and Portland with Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE). While the trip did not involve carving waves or stuffing our faces with baked goods (bummer), we did get to hear passionate people explain what keeps them up at night. We got to share a little bit about SoftLayer and how we can help them sleep better (or fuel them with more energy when they're up at night ... depending on which they preferred), and as I headed back to Los Angeles, I knew I made the right choice to become a SLayer. I'm surrounded by energy, creativity, passion, innovation and collaboration on a daily basis. It's intoxicating.

TL;DR: I love my job.

-@andy_mui

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