Friday, January 19, 2001

The Cyber Scene in Denver ~ by Suzanne Lainson

The local tech networking scene won't head back into high gear until next week, but I did check out two events. One was the Boulder Business Series, which brings together MBAs from America's elite schools. The meetings are held in a conference room at the historic Boulderado. Opened in 1909, it's a luxury hotel that retains its Victorian charm. (One highlight is the stained glass ceiling.) Back in the 1970s, before the hotel was restored, it was a popular hangout for beat authors William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg.

There had been a snowstorm all day so the best we could muster was business casual. While we sipped our wine, I had a chance talk to David Belin, senior research analyst for RRC Associates, and Daniel Lubar, partner of dataDistributions Corporation. We talked about the ski industry because RRC does research for a number of ski resorts, and DDC, a value-added wireless service provider, offers SnowMinder, which sends out ski area snow reports to phones and pagers.

Wireless was also the subject of the presentation, made by David Hose, CEO/president/founder of SignalSoft, a wireless location services provider (a category the company created for itself). He gave us an insider's view of the wireless market.

Among his amusing insights:

* Marketing people like color presentations and techies like black- and-white.

* Representatives of the wireless industry are always meeting to talk about standards. Two or three times a year they will meet in a nice city, stay in a nice hotel, and meet in a conference room in the basement. If you to be a part of this industry, go to those meetings.

* The founders of SignalSoft knew this was a lucrative industry because companies like Lucent threw incredible, expensive parties.

>From the beginning in 1995, SignalSoft has been market driven rather than product driven. The opportunity was spotted first, then the product was created. Typically technology companies are created the other way around. Right now the company has identified four service categories and has products for each: information (location-based content), billing (variable billing based on usage location), safety (locating 911 calls), and tracking (of assets, vehicles, or people).

Then it was a very short trek home (I love those downtown Boulder gatherings). Even better was an announcement on the nightly news that the University of Colorado had just received a donation of $250 million, the largest donation ever made to a public university. Noteworthy is the fact that the money has come from Silicon Valley. Claudia and Bill Coleman, chairman/CEO of BEA Systems in San Jose, were the generous benefactors. (BEA does have offices in Boulder and Denver.) The money will be used to develop technology to help people with cognitive disabilities.

The next day, January 17, I dropped in at the B2B BootCamp being held at the Arvada Center. I had a chance to hear Sherri Leopard, CEO/founder of Leopard Communications, talking about branding and how online marketing can be used as part of an overall marketing strategy. It's about business, not technology. Start simple, grow fast, make it scaleable and secure. Know how your customers perceive you and work from your strengths.

During lunch I sat next to Ken Custer, publisher of Advertising & Marketing Review. Later I had a chance to talk to Kent Jarnig, executive director of the B2B BootCamp, Larry Nelson, host of the World Wide Web Radio Show, Kari Nelson, founder of Recess Active Entertainment, John Freudenberger, CEO/founder of The Inside Lane, and Ty Bohannon, founder of eBusiness Strategies. The same theme ran through all the conversations: Colorado is on the move and it is still possible to play a major role in shaping the journey. The keynote speaker was John Sifonis, a director in Cisco's Internet Business Solutions Group. If you have just one Internet presentation to see, make it this one. It was excellent. I'm told his book, Net Ready, is a must-have, so if you can't catch him in person, buy it. Among his many points:

* The Internet has raised expectations. People are saying, "We want it free. We want it perfect. We want it now."

* It's easy to establish a Web presence; difficult to create a Web- based business. The old organization model was based on simple, clear, few, and fixed. The new organizational model is based on complex, vague, many, and change.

* In the old organization, information flow was based on a need to know; in the new organization information flow is based on trust.

* In today's business environment, planning is totally non-linear and at best extends 12 to 18 months. Ideas should be quickly tested and then rapidly abandoned if they don't work.

* It is cheaper to continually raise the level of customer satisfaction than to acquire new customers.

* Everyone is getting into your value chain. As a result, it is hard to know what business you're in.

* Business strategy is IT strategy. Highly successful companies view IT as an asset, not a cost.

As John pointed out to us, it's a competitive world out there. Change or die. And with that, I'll sign off for this week.