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I had the pleasure of co-leading a workshop at the recent AIGA Gain Conference in NYC along with the amazing Mateo Neri. As promised, here are some references related to the remarkably rich and dynamic discussion we had that day—special thanks to all in attendance for your great contributions!

3 Books:

  1. The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki
  2. The Design Entrepreneur by Steven Heller and Lita Talarico
  3. Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky

3 Blogs:

  1. AVC: Musings of a VC in NYC by Fred Wilson
  2. 30 Second MBA on FastCompany.com
  3. The New Entrepreneur on BusinessWeek.com

3 Twitter “Follows:”

  1. @VentureHacks
  2. @HelenWalters
  3. @ProjectM

3 Random Resources

  1. Startup Weekend
  2. Kickstarter.com
  3. BPC: Biz Plan Competitions

I really wanted to love this conference. After all, it had the makings of the ideal design gathering for the Spring of 2010: A top-notch line-up of speakers from the design and business worlds, including some of my heroes, old and new (designer, Stefan Sagmeister; venture capitalist, Fred Wilson; Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey); a first-class venue (The Times Center in midtown Manhattan); a focus on the “how” of the creative process rather than the “what;” and all viewed through the lens of trendiest trend site Cool Hunting and the white hot creative consulting firm Behance. Plus the reviews of last year’s 99% were ecstatic.

How could this be anything but spectacular?

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Fred Wilson is a constant source of intriguing chatter on the startup tech sector. Through his prolific blog, AVC, Musings of a VC in NYC, Wilson offers a revealing and insightful view of the venture capital process, and specifically his VC firm, Union Square Ventures which focuses on early stage startups.

Recently, Wilson blogged about the types of investments he’s looking to make in 2010. There were some predictable ideas (mobile technology and gaming), but one note caught my attention: “New forms of commerce and currency on the web.” Union Square Ventures was an early investor in Etsy, the popular online marketplace for handmade goods which I’ve noted numerous times on Merge, and Wilson laments that there aren’t more similar opportunities for buyers and sellers to congregate and do business online. He takes this a step further with the analogy of the San Telmo marketplace in Buenos Aires, which he suggests is a model for the type of experience that blends the social and commercial that is missing online now.

This is a point that I have been making recently as I’ve reflected on the iPhone app development boom and the combination of the iPhone Developer Program/iTunes Store that makes it so relatively easy to enter the market. I think the success of Etsy and iPhone apps demonstrates clearly that, when the path from idea to market is made simple, efficient, and inexpensive, designers and creative professionals will participate in a big way. I hope Fred Wilson’s prediction comes true and more such marketplaces begin to emerge in the year ahead. Please post a comment if you are seeing other examples that I’ve missed here.

Picture 4Back in June, I wrote about the startup media service, Boxee (Boxee CEO Avner Ronen on Funding in a Challenging Economy, June 17, 2009), and today the news is buzzing with the story that Boxee has secured $6 million in a second round of fundraising from venture capital firm General Catalyst Partners. Boxee has become a darling—and a demon—of the tech/media world as it has developed. Brad Stone from NY Times’ Bits blog describes Boxee as “a free service that draws in a wide variety of video from the Web and presents it in an interface designed for viewing on a TV screen and navigating with a remote control. The company is perhaps best known for its cat-and-mouse struggle to add Hulu.com to its lineup, which also includes the Netflix streaming service, YouTube and MLB.com.” The open source format that Boxee uses is considered a threat to the traditional mainstream media outlets who are in a struggle to control their content.

Another Merge favorite, venture capitalist Fred Wilson, has been heavily involved in the earlier round of funding for Boxee and continues to serve on the company’s board. Check out the post Wilson wrote on his blog about the funding news in which he lays out the strategic priorities for Boxee in the next stage of growth.

While there is certainly much to celebrate here with a positive bit of news around an innovative startup venture, the interesting piece of this item to me is how BIG a story it apparently is over such a relatively small amount of money. In the pre-recession days, news of $6miilion in funding for a business with this potential would have been underwhelming to say the least. But venture capital has dried up so much in the last year that even this relatively modest sum is now drawing a disproportionate amount of scrutiny. Indeed, CEO Avner Ronen has gone out of his way to explain how lean an operation he is running in these early days (he must hold a record for the use of the term “bootstraps” in a single interview).

Without a doubt, Boxee has massive potential. I strongly believe that the next wave of important tech/media breakthroughs will come in the form of products and services that allow us to aggregate and organize the overwhelming flow of content we are currently drowning in, which is exactly what Boxee proposes to do. Boxee is currently in Alpha testing, with a Beta release due very soon. It will be fun to watch this story develop in the months ahead.

Here’s a promotional video about Boxee that gives a pretty good overview of the offering:

Here are links to a few other postings on this story:
Washington Post TechCrunch
CNet News Digital Media column
TechSpot

I’ve been following the blog of Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist working in the the tech category. Wilson is an active blogger, commentator, tweeter (@fredwilson) and speaker on the topic of social media, which—as I’ve written many times on Merge—is going to be an important asset, at the very least, for creative entrepreneurs in the near future.

But how do we channel this medium that clearly has massive potential, but is currently evolving and growing at a blindingly rapid pace? In this short video, Fred Wilson comments on what’s next for social media.

Here’s a longer presentation by Wilson at the Google HQ last month in which he expands on his thinking.

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