Guest commentary: Aspen Startup Weekend welcomes innovators, entrepreneurs
In 1995, I designed one of the world’s first DSL broadband modems and the business model around low-cost broadband delivery. It required new thinking — from technology to the Public Utilities Commission’s regulations on leasing phone lines from US West to raising market awareness. We researched regulatory issues at the Public Utilities Commission and found that for $6 a month, we could lease a copper telephone line to a subscriber in Aspen. Putting a DSL modem on that line and connecting it to the Internet created one of the first broadband companies in the world. Here in Aspen.
That year I spoke at Moscone Center to a standing-room-only crowd of Internet-access pioneers. It reminded me of 1977, when I first spoke with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. That was shortly after their Apple II launch at the West Coast Computer Faire. I started an Apple Computer store in April 1978. In 1983, I was introduced to the Internet. In 1988, I registered Comsys.com, and today you can still reach me at the same email address I’ve had since then. In 1988, hundreds of thousands of articles were posted on the Internet every week, sharing experiences in social groups from woodworking to aviation, gardening to world travel.
When microcomputers opened the market door to lower-cost, reliable industrial efficiency, office automation and gaming, the global business model changed. Ten years later, when the Internet connected engineers, students and scientists via email and libraries of shared software, data, research and shared experiences, again, the global business model changed. By 1998, the Internet commonwealth — software, research and communications protocols —was turned over for any business and commercial use. Sign-ups for access to email, instant messaging, catalogs of books and published materials rocketed. Thousands of Internet service providers were born. Many still exist. By 2000, the value of e-commerce drove irrational capital and business behavior. The blue-sky-sales bubble burst.
My longtime Internet colleagues and I could only shake our heads in disbelief at the capital flow from 1998 to 2000. In 2007, I was offered a job as a global project manager in the Unlimited Potential Group at Microsoft to help describe the market for mobile broadband devices. Microsoft obtained the wisdom it needed.
In 2007, the iPhone was announced. How did Apple win in mobile broadband? What did Jobs know?
Today, an entrepreneur can launch a business with a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. They can describe and build a product using modern Agile methods. Agile methodologies are responsive.
Three forces shape economic opportunities for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs: regulatory and legal changes, technology and science changes and market changes. At the intersection of these dynamic forces, a new business model can be proposed. Traditional business plans often fail because those plans don’t respond to these forces.
Last month, I participated in Paul Allen’s Vulcan Ignitor Startup Weekend in Seattle. This was not just an entrepreneurial hands-on gathering; Ignitor focused the entire event on ocean awareness by sponsoring it. Here in Aspen, Startup Weekend is open to everyone and every idea. It’s a learning experience, networking and startup experience like no other.
Several years ago, no one would have imagined a photo app would be valued at a billion dollars. Or a new GPS program at $1.3 billion. Or a Kickstarter-launched visual 3-D helmet at more than a billion dollars. At the confluence of these companies is a business model that breaks the boundaries established within historical business plans. The entrepreneurs think differently about revenue streams, value propositions, rollout strategies and key partners. Instagram, Waze and Occulus Rift moved forward to reach these heady valuations using strategies that engage a business model that few understand well.
I was introduced to Startup Weekend by a successful entrepreneur and colleague in Portland, Oregon. I attended all three days and afterward shook my head in disbelief. Could a business really be defined and launched in 54 hours? Was it practical? It happened. I rushed to the next Startup Weekend in Bend, Oregon. Bend is a rural area. Same results. This hands-on method of moving economic development forward works.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about technology, regulatory and market forces that are shaping business and entrepreneurship opportunities. Think “jobs act,” “Internet of things” and “business models.” Think differently. Grassroots entrepreneurship builds a stronger community fabric, attracts innovations that improve quality of life and helps drive value. Join the Western Colorado Entrepreneurs group on Meetup.com, as well. See you at Startup Weekend.
Startup Weekend in Aspen runs through Sunday. More details are available at http://aspen.startupweekend.org.
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From behind the scenes, the sights and sounds of horse and cattle, and the raucous lifestyle of rodeo culture hasn’t changed all that much since the Snowmass Rodeo arena opened here in the summer of 1973.