AmazonCamp Roundup

This roundup is a couple of weeks overdue – life’s been a bit hectic round these parts between work and the new kid so blogging got a bit back-burned so, from the “Better Late Than Never” file:

For something that started out as a “I wonder if anyone would be interested…” AmazonCamp sure blossomed into a fun evening that seemed to provide a lot of value to everyone who attended. Heck, at the end of the night I practically had to drag people out (I did have to turn out ALL the lights) of Indoor Playground so we could move onto a local bar for some drinks – I’ll take that as a good sign that people were engaged.

After I threw out the idea I touched base with Amazon evangelist, Mike Culver, just to make sure I wasn’t duplicating the effort of anyone else locally. He turned me on to Reuven Cohen of Enomaly who was working with a couple of people to try and get a local AWS user group up and running.

The night quickly became an AmazonCamp/AWS User Group kick-off evening and Mike graciously offered to come up and talk to the group as well.

The Presentation
Mike gave a quick talk to lay out the groundwork for Amazon and what each of it’s AWS services are. He then provided some examples of apps he’d seen or heard of that really took advantage of Amazon’s services.

Sworn to secrecy (or as he put it pro-actively ignorant) about what’s coming down the pipes there wasn’t a tonne of net-new information to be gleamed from the presentation but he did everyone on to some very interesting use-cases of each of the AWS applications (at least the one’s we can use from up here in Canada).

The Demos

Following Mike’s presentation we flipped into a more DemoCamp style portion of the evening. We had five companies talk about what they were doing with AWS.


Justin Giancola, Freshbooks
Justin talked about their work with Amazon’s Flexible Payment Service. Sadly not something we can really play with here in Canada yet but certainly some very interesting opportunities arise out of the service.

Me & Dave Rapin, Clay Tablet Technologies
Dave and I dug into how we’re leveraging AWS for a SaaS/hosted license version 2.0 of the Clay Tablet product. We’re leveraging EC2, SQS & S3 to make it all happen and our architecture allows us to quickly ramp new servers up (and subsequently take them down) to handle heavy loads of content etc.

Kevin Thomason & Ilya Grigorik , AideRSS
Kevin & Ilya covered their experiences in developing AideRSS on the Amazon platform and how it basically saved them a lot of money (and face) when usage exploded on launch day. Amazon allowed them to ramp from 10 to 30 and ultimately 100 server instances in a 24 hour period.

Chris Thiessen, Zoomii.ca
I’d seen Chris demo Zoomi at a DemoCamp a few months ago and asked him to come out. Chris has built a unique online bookstore that basically pushes the limits of the AWS services in just about every way possible. A very cool idea that should be launching soon check out his site to signup for the BETA.

Reuven Cohen, Enomaly
Reuven has a long history with the AWS guys and co-organized the event for me. He got up and talked a bit about the various services and products that they’ve built to complement AWS.

All in all the night seemed to be a big hit – we followed the formal part of the evening with some drinks at a local bar. Despite plying Mike with pitchers of beer we were unable to pry any Amazon secrets out of him ;) – To his credit though he really was interested in digging deeper into what all of us were doing and what we were looking for from AWS down the road (Reminder: Bulk Account Management please! :) ).

Looking forward to getting another AmazonCamp together in the new year.

Dragon’s Den: The missing piece

Watching the latest episode last night I got thinking that CBC really needs a different mix of Dragon’s next season. My fundamental problem with it right now is every episode we continuously hear “It’s not a space I know anything about” and it’s generally Robert Herjavec or Kevin O’Leary saying it.

And I think it’s because they’ve got a major gap in the skill sets of the Dragons on the show – manufacturing.

While many of the “contestants” are total crackpots there have been more than a few opportunities over the past couple of seasons that the Dragon’s have passed on simply because they didn’t get the space etc. – the reality though was the person typically wasn’t looking to the Dragon’s for insights into their own industry. They knew all that themselves – what a lot of them truly needed was support in moving to that next step – taking hand crafted to mass production.

Lawrence might have some insights but I think fashion is a world unto itself – besides his real value is understanding retail strategies.

But who to replace?

When push comes to shove I think Robert needs to go – I like him but when you step back I think his real strengths (computers/IT Services etc.) add minimal value to the mix. When you look at it, with the exception of the JobLoft guys there haven’t really been any legitimate software opportunities showing up on the show (they’re not great TV and I’m guessing many are deliberately avoiding DD as a “financing opportunity”).

Swap him out in favour of a new Dragon who has some serious manufacturing cred and I think he (or she) would provide an interesting perspective on a lot of these products. It really is the one hole they’ve got in the show right now. The other four cover off key industries, skills & personalities to balance out the show. What they’re missing is someone who really really gets taking a product from idea/prototype to manufacturing.

Add a manufacturing person to the mix and I think they’d likely “lead” a lot more of the deals with Jim, Lawrence or Arlene following (for when it’s time to take the product to market).

Oh, while I’m on the topic of Dragon’s Den – about this 50% thing.

Would someone on the show please call these guys out on their 50% fixation?

It’s the most bullshit play in the book. They all know there’s plenty of other ways to structure these deals without stripping the entrepreneur of the bulk of their equity right off the bat.

Sure, occasionally the “valuation” the person is putting on their company based on the ask/equity share ratio ( i.e. $250K for 10% of my idea ) is out to lunch once in a while but many times they’re simply putting the screws to the entrepreneur.

For example, the woman last night, with the line of home organization products, should have run far, far away from that deal – Arlene gave her some good advice “Take the order to the bank and get some money” as she stepped out of the deal. I can’t fathom why she flipped and nodded “It’s a good deal” to the girl later.

Tragic.

PhotoSensitive Exhibit

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On the way to work this morning I happened across a photo exhibit in Brookfield Place (formerly BCE place) – as I’ve mentioned before Brookfield Place is a great spot to encounter happy surprises in the morning as they regularly have something in their hyper-photogenic atrium.

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The current exhibit is called “PhotoSensitive”. In their words:

“Photosensitive projects focus on realities with which North Americans are familiar including poverty, illness hunger, racism, ignorance, injustice. But it concentrates too on their antidotes: the hope found in the face of adversity, the laughter and love that make the difficulties of life tolerable, the simple pleasures that lighten dark lives. The photographers use the camera’s ability to tell a story, make a comment and spur viewers to action.”

More details can be found at PhotoSensitive.com