Friday, November 9, 2012

How our Personal Media Technology Helped Obama win Ohio

In September we launched our Personal Media solution with the Obama for America Campaign in Ohio.  As we now know, Barack Obama won the State of Ohio's electoral votes.  I'm not going to say our technology was the reason and take responsibility for the victory.  The reason was most certainly the tremendous staff of Obama for America - Ohio. Not only was the staff filled with quality people but they also were willing to give my company and our technology a chance.  They allowed us to launch with them in Columbus, Ohio the state's largest city and whose county went for Barack Obama. They were excellent to work with and provided us with a tremendous opportunity to validate our technology in the space of politics. 

To understand how our 121campaign technology works, read this earlier blog post.  The Obama campaign had content a wide variety of issues they were ready to provide to voters. That's a perfect fit for our technology which is focused on providing Personal Media, meaning that we want to allow people to see the content that really matters to them personally.

Approximately one in five people that received a personal media card from Obama actually visited their landing page. We were very pleased with the results and we remain very grateful to the staff in Ohio for working with us and giving us the opportunity to validate our technology on this level.

With the big races over until 2014, we'll be taking our focus on how to leverage the 121nexus platform in other areas.  Stay tuned for announcements on new applications of our platform outside of politics!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Boston Shark Tank - Pick Me Already!

I very much want to be on Boston Shark Tank where I'll have a chance at a $100,000 investment as one of six entrepreneurs pitching their company. I'm hoping my last post got their attention.  But until such time as they make a selection I figure I might as well keep promoting my company as a great choice for the tank!

When I applied for Boston Shark Tank I decided to take some liberty in describing our team as a way to get their attention.  I mean how many times do you have founders that met each other in school or at a previous start up?  A lot, right?  So I thought why not spice it up.  Some of it is true after all... [Portions redacted for good reasons... just trust me].

About the Team
Foster and Albert, a classic hustler/hacker duo, met at the United States’ secret training facility for genetically modified humans.  They escaped from the facility in 1995 using parts from a Sony Playstation, a cassette tape recorder, a koosh ball, a flannel shirt, a Black's Law Dictionary, a TI-81 calculator and three packets of Fire Sauce from Taco Bell.  Foster went on to study International Politics and Japanese at Penn State en route to a law degree from Florida State while Albert went on to study Electrical Engineering at Cornell.  The duo reunited in an effort to stop a former MIT professor and likely sociopath from ruining the hopes and dreams of impressionable young entrepreneurs.  After succeeding in defeating the evil "Professor" the two decided to develop a to-scale prototype Mobile Suit Gundam.  However, after seeing the mountain of paperwork required to put their Mobile Suit Gundam into full production the two decided they wanted to renounce war anyway and work on a project that would "bring people together."

In case they forgot this from my application... Here's a reminder of just the top ten reasons they should pick and invest in 121nexus.

Top Ten Reasons the Sharks should Invest in 121nexus
10. They need teams which can be readily casted on their other show Dancing with the Sharks
9.  They like big returns on investment
8. They believe that the way people consume media is rapidly shifting away from live TV and is an area ripe for disruptive media distribution solutions.
7.  121nexus trademarked Personal Media™ (crazy, right?)
6.  The CEO of 121nexus was on TV, so these guys must be for real!
5.  They want to democratize democracy
4.  They have ever wanted information but were turned off when they were asked to opt-in in order to get it or wished they could have remained anonymous.
3.  They like that two guys with zero major political connections managed to get the Obama campaign to use their technology
2. They believe personalization is the future of the internet
1.  Their mamas didn't raise no fools.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Boston Shark Tank - Let's Do It!

I am one of seventy entrepreneurs vying for one of the final six spots in the Boston Shark Tank.  Here's a few reasons why I deserve a shot:
  • Since we did our launch with Obama for America in Columbus, Ohio I've been mum on this blog about the results.  Part of that has to do with confidentiality.  The rest is that I applied for Boston Shark Tank before we did the launch.  More details will come out if I'm selected!
  • We had no political connections at this company when we decided to test our personal media solution in the space of politics.  We simply saw it was a great opportunity to validate our technology.  Selling to political campaigns as an outsider is impossible.  But we achieved it anyway, all the way to the highest level of politics.
  • We now know how our personal media performs against non-personalized media and it's better!  Just how much better I'll feed to the sharks.  But rest assured, we're on the verge of a groundbreaking new marketing tool.  
  • Finally, I want this!  Everyone at 121nexus works their butt off to defy the odds to be one of the few startups that actually makes it in this world.  Getting a shot at the Boston Shark Tank will go a long way with all the tenacity that we have in ensuring this company's success. 

Everyone tweet this blog with the hashtag #bostonsharks so I can get their attention.  Thank you for your support! 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bringing Personal Media to Politics

Say Media has done a great job making the case for why it's time to bring Personal Media to politics.  

"Nearly 45 percent of likely voters prefer other video sources to live TV. Politicians must adapt their ad campaigns accordingly."

I couldn't agree more. That's why 121nexus is bringing Personal Media to politics with 121campaign.  Despite the fact that dumping money into TV has worked the last fifty years for campaigns, the reality is that the landscape of media consumption is rapidly shifting.  More and more households have DVRs and fast forward through commercials.  More and more people are accessing media on their mobile devices (smart phones and tablets).  That's why are 121campaign solution makes so much sense. 

With 121campaign the campaigns can reach voters and reach them with the most relevant content possible to engage them at a personal level. Let's review how 121campaign works to illustrate this.
  1. First a campaign assembles the different issue focused content they want to get to voters. 
  2. Then the campaign orders how ever many cards they want to distribute to voters. Each card has a unique QR code and link on it to serve as a voter's individual portal into the campaign.
  3. The campaigner meets a voter, scans the QR code on the card with their smart phone (launching the 121campaign app) and then records the voter's preferences. 
  4. The voter then scans the card and is taken directly to content related to the issue that they personally care most about.
The goal with this Personal Media solution is to provide campaigns with a means to get voters engaged while allowing the voter the choice to remain anonymous if they chose and to not be forced to opt-in to campaign content.

TV will be relevant for the foreseeable future, but now is the time for campaigns to start thinking about Personal Media as a new tool to reach voters.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Personal Media

I recently appeared on TV to talk about 121nexus, our political application 121campaign, our dating application Shall We Meet Again, and Personal Media™.  Personal Media™ is really what this company is about and so I want to elaborate on what we mean by that more in this blog post.

On the TV program, I talked about the evolution of the web.  Web 1.0 was the "Read Web" where you could read information on the internet.  Anyone have a GeoCities webpage back in the day?  Web 2.0 is the "Read/Write Web" where you can not only read information but also "write" or publish information.  Blogs erupted onto the scene as part of Web 2.0 which added vasts amount of information to the internet. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are all great examples of Web 2.0 websites where users can publish statuses or upload photos and videos.  Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are also well-known social media companies.  In fact Web 2.0 and social media are almost synonymous.

So what's next for web?  What will Web 3.0 look like?  That's certainly a point of debate. However many focus on the needs that have arisen out of Web 2.0. The results of Web 2.0, users being able to publish content, are that there is a tremendous amount of content and information on the web today.  This is problematic because users now have difficulty trying to find information and make sense of it.  That's why many believe that Web 3.0 will be focused on making information relevant to users by curating the content or personalizing the information.  Here is a good explanation of Web 3.0 concepts where the author, Amit Aragwal states Web 3.0 will be about the semantic web (or the meaning of data), personalization, intelligent search and behavioral advertising among other things.

We agree with the assessments that personalization is going to be a big part of Web 3.0. In fact, we believe that our platform is the perfect example of what is next for the web -- Personal Media™.  We believe in it so much, that we have in fact applied for a trademark on the term which is why you see the TM symbol with the words in this blog.  But I digress, Personal Media™ means serving content and information (media) to individuals on a person to person basis, changing it to meet the personal preferences of a given user.  Instead of sending everyone to the same content, you curate it or configure it to be relevant to the individual. 

With our platform you can customize what your clients, customers or even friends see when you bring them on to the web.  Because Personal Media™ is tailored to the individual it's going to be more engaging than the static, generic content that would normally be viewed by them. 

Personal Media™ -- it's for business, for politics,  for YOU!

Monday, July 9, 2012

121CAMPAIGN Manifesto

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.” – George Bernard Shaw

The quote from Shaw well illustrates the core principle that we believe in with our 121CAMPAIGN product -- exchanging ideas is a good thing.  We want to make it easy for political leaders, groups and constituents to share their ideas with one another.  We believe that the more that ideas flow between individuals and groups, the better our democracy will work.

121CAMPAIGN is nonpartisan.  Any group or individual may use the platform, regardless of their political affiliations.  

We are removing the barriers to political discourse -- with our platform you don't have "opt-in" (register your email, create an account, share your personal information) in order to add your voice to the conversation.  

We believe in an equal playing field.  We make our service affordable so that even small campaigns can use it. 

We expect small-minded people to attempt to impose political affiliations on our company but will remain undaunted in our mission to provide a nonpartisan platform to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas.  

We Will Redemocratize Democracy!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Drawbacks of Online Dating

Online dating is iffy.  People put up pictures and answer questions about themselves, but no one knows how accurate those are. Then when you finally decide to make the jump from just communicating online to meeting in person, there's that awkward period of trying to discern which of the people in your agreed upon location look the most like your date's picture (assuming that picture is not outdated, blurry, or just plain not them). Yepp, making the transition to the real world from the digital one can be quite the leap, especially if you haven't met before. (For all you Disney buffs: no, once upon a dream does not count).

According to Forbes, it takes 7 seconds to get a first impression in person. Over the internet is a different story. If only there was a way to get that first impression and then retreat back to the safety of online messaging until you had built up enough of a connection to meet again in person. That way, you already know (well, your gut instinct does) if you're interested or not.

If only...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pride and Preliminaries

The 121nexus team had a blast at Pride this Saturday, where we ran a beta test of our campaign solution by distributing three hundred cards for Congressman Cicilline. The results are still coming in; we've been surprised to notice that we're getting new users accessing their personal landing pages for the first time even today, three days after the event.

At the last minute, we also decided to distribute some of Foster's old dating cards to drum up interest for Shall We Meet Again. Since Foster isn't looking for a boyfriend, though, we had the codes redirect to this comic instead, which is half teaser-trailer for the Shall We Meet Again release, half an experiment in different ways to explain our technology. We hope that graphically showing the cards in action will allow people to quickly grasp what exactly we're trying to do.

This week, we'll be working on adding some features to the campaign platform to allow the distributors of the cards to customize landing pages more quickly, and on reintegrating the old Shall We Meet Again site into our new code base. At the end of the week, we should be compiling our results from the Pride test, which will hopefully help us refine our approach to 121campaign-ing.

Foster and Albert are finally emerging from grant land today, so it's time to get started!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Gear Up

The intros and the set-ups are over, so it's time to get to work. And we definitely have work to do.

Our goals:

1) Apply for an NSF grant by the end of the week, showcasing the potential effects of our personal media solution in multiple markets. 121 technology facilitates a passive connection paired with human-augmented personalization to make true one-to-one connections without requiring you to log in or store everything you've ever done online (creepy).

2) Have 121Campaign completely up and running in time for Pride this Saturday, where Congressman Cicilline will be using our technology to reach out to his constituants. This test is incredibly important for us, as it will be the first time we will get real data be able to say for certain what our open (people who open the links) and conversion (people who follow up by clicking the calls to action on the landing pages) rates are. We will be at the event and handing out the cards ourselves, so we can also get user experience, at least from the distributer end.

3) (Hopefully) get the ShallWeMeetAgain site functional on a demo level so that we can distribute ShallWeMeetAgain cards at Pride and generate interest for the site.

I mentioned we have one more day to do this, right?

Wish us luck!

Friday, June 8, 2012

The New 121Team

There are a lot of new faces around the 121Nexus offices recently. In just two short weeks, we have officially brought the team from its initial two co-founders up to eight people with our plethora of interns. Let's introduce them!

In order of appearance:

Lydia- started 5/29 and will be acting in the role of project manager. She's a rising senior at Cornell University majoring in operations research engineering and will be on the development side and the business side. So far, she’s done market research on the online dating market in the US and Japan, come up with a costing model for our upcoming Japanese dating application, redesigned the blog, worked on the website redesign team, and written two blog posts (including this one).

Haley- started 6/4 and will be acting in the role of chief designer. She’s a recent grad of Cornell University where she majored in physics and will be working on the development side and the design side. So far, she’s created a mascot for our Japanese dating application, worked on the website redesign team, redone the blog header (like it?), and prepared all of our new graphic content.

Jed- started 6/4 and will be acting in the role of business lead. He’s a rising junior at Cornell University (sensing a trend yet?) majoring in applied economics and management and will be working on the business side of the company.  So far, he’s prepared a preliminary pro forma, done market research on the political campaign market and the dating market, and gone over all of the company expenses.

Nicole- started 6/4 and will be acting in the role of lead front-end programmer. She’s a rising junior at (you guessed it) Cornell University, majoring in information science, systems, and technology, and she will be working on the development side.  So far, she acted as the primary coder on the website redesign team.

John- will start 6/11 and will be acting in the role of chief marketing/PR/campaign liaison. He’s a rising senior at Brown University (switching it up) majoring in international relations, and he will be working on marketing and public relations. John is also an intern with the Cicilline campaign, and will be helping our company coordinate with the campaign.

Neal- will start soon and will be acting in the role of lead back-end programmer. He’s a rising sophomore at Cornell University majoring in computer science and will be working on the development side. He will be working with us remotely and his first project will be building an API for us.

We’re very excited about all these new members and can’t wait to see where the company can go with all this new talent behind it.

Friday, June 1, 2012

We Love RI

There’s no doubt about it, the city of Providence has been great for 121Nexus.  The culture here breeds idea sharing and trying new and innovative things: perfect for a start-up. Just two nights ago we had PechaKucha right here at the Betaspring office. A PechaKucha is when people get 20 slides, with 20 seconds per slide, to talk about whatever they want. Anyone can come and watch, and anyone can present: the talks and slides are uncensored and un-juried.  It actually started in Tokyo as a way for people from different backgrounds with different interests to come together and generate new ideas together.  The event has since spread all over the world, and Providence is in third for the most PechaKucha events, at 38 as of May 30th.
And it’s not just the culture. The city officials truly want start-ups in Providence to stay and succeed.  Considering our political application, this is great for us. Even without it, having the politicians where you work support your cause and actively try to help you is huge.  The city of Providence is committed to working with HUD to allocate funds from development to give to budding companies, just like us, to encourage job creation.  Yesterday all of the start-ups graduating from Betaspring were invited to a press conference at the mayor’s office and recognized with citations for their help generating jobs for the city. Here's the link.

This push to help start-ups prosper in Providence is given even more of a boost by Rhode Island’s size.  The small size works to our advantage, where everyone is only one to two degrees of separation away. Entrepreneurs can then quickly secure meetings with the people that they need to get feedback from in order to build a great product and business.   We could not be happier with Providence, Rhode Island.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Are Political Campaigns Stalking You?

Today on NPR Brian Naylor reports on how political campaigns are using technology to track voters across the internet:

"'If you sign up to use one of these campaign apps on Facebook, you're given a little warning that says this app is now going to find out everything that you've made public about yourself on Facebook, as well as the names and IDs of all your friends,' says [Micah] Sifry."
"The campaigns are very interested in where we go online, whether it's Facebook or a news site. And if you've ever wondered how campaign banner ads seem to pop up on every site you visit, blame one of those little data markers in your browser, the cookie. Visit a campaign website, Sifry says, and you get a cookie, which gets shared with other websites you visit.
'The cookie that they've placed on your site from visiting their website is telling those other websites, "Hey, this is a person who visited the Barack Obama website; let's show them one of those Obama ads,"' says Sifry.
Sifry says there is a danger of a backlash, that voters might feel they're being stalked by a campaign."
The comments from Sifry illustrate the impetus for 121Campaign, which allows a voter to interact with a campaign on a one-to-one basis, while protecting the voter from having their privacy invaded or from being exploited on social media.  

Reflections on Launch Day at Betaspring

Our official Launch Day at Betaspring was one week ago.  Now some reflections...

1.  The twelve weeks at Betaspring were the fastest of my life.  Time flies when you're having fun as they say. I would add that it literally seems to evaporate into thin air when you're having fun, hard at work on a start up.

2.  Accepting a spot in Betaspring and moving to Providence was the right decision.  In Boston, you can easily feel like you're at the center of the start up universe, and I'm sure people out in Silicon Valley feel the same way.  But that's not necessarily a good thing. Being surrounded by other start ups makes it easy to get lost in the crowd.  Companies that are in completely different spaces become competitors because they're vying for time and access to the same mentors and investors that you are. In Providence the start up community is comparatively nascent, yet very solid and developed. You still have an opportunity to meet with other entrepreneurs and share ideas.  There a tons of great mentors which I'd say you have better access to.  If you're in Betaspring, investors will come from Boston just to see you.  More importantly, the entire City of Providence seems to be rooting for you.  Everyone I meet is excited to hear that we're starting our company in Providence.  Here, people are quick to offer help and support in anyway they can, which is great for an entrepreneur.

3.  We are one of the first Personal Media companies.  TechCocktail had a write-up on Betaspring's launch day.  Our company was in the "Other" category.  The category we should have been in is Personal Media.  That's what our platform does, it allows you to personalize media for a specific individual and allow them to get that without requiring them to opt-in.  I believe personal media is the successor to social media.  As the internet becomes increasingly accessed via mobile and as people have various app alerts distracting them from the content they're viewing, it becomes important to make their experiences personally relevant in order to get them engaged.  That's what 121nexus is about.  We're glad to lead the charge.

Betaspring is just the beginning.  We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but we sure are excited to do it!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Betaspring Difference

On Monday, April 9th we presented our company to the world for the first time at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce's annual Congressional Breakfast with the entire Rhode Island Congressional Delegation: Senator Reed, Senator Whitehouse, Rep. Langevin and Rep. Cicilline. The opportunity came to us from Laurie White, the President of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. I met Laurie at the Betaspring open house on March 8th and just a month later she had me in front of the not only Rhode Island's Congressional Delegation, but also 500 members of the business community. That leads me to the Betaspring difference and why we're excited to be building our company in Providence.

Betaspring is the start up accelerator that brought us to Providence. We were selected along with 15 other teams to participate out of nearly 250 applicants. Getting accepted into Betaspring has been game-changing for us. As I said when I was interviewed for this blog post, “We found a lot of champions here in Providence that helped us get connected and we did in Providence in 12 weeks what it took us 12 months to do alone in Boston. We were a snowflake and now we are an avalanche. It’s fun to build a company when you are excited about what you are working on and you can do it in an environment like Betaspring."

The 15 other teams here are all great. We are constantly collaborating with one another on our projects. We are all focused on our individual success but we also want to see our colleagues succeed as well. Being in Betaspring is like being in a fraternity where everyone is super bright and motivated (note: we do in fact have a ping-pong table and a kegerator at Betaspring HQ).

For anyone starting up a company I would invite them to do it in Providence. People here will be rooting for you and you can join an emerging entrepreneurial community that I'm proud to be a part of.

Monday, March 26, 2012

When Bringing Voters Online Goes Wrong

"Newt Gingrich has often told voters during the presidential campaign to learn more about him by going online.
But many people who typed "Newt" into Google just before Nevada's caucuses saw more than the traditional search results on Mr. Gingrich. They also saw an advertisement attacking his stance on housing—purchased by the campaign of rival Mitt Romney.
On Twitter, people who used Mr. Gingrich's subject marker #250gas, a reference to his promise to cut gasoline prices, at times have seen an ad from Barack Obama touting the president's own energy proposals."
The foregoing highlights some of the reasons that 121campaign is an important tool for campaigns to use. With 121campaign, you leave nothing to chance. Using the platform's unique codes to establish your one-to-one relationship with a voter, you're then directing the voter to the exact content that you want them to see. Opponents can do nothing to disrupt the process of bringing a voter online using 121campaign. It's the most risk-free and efficient way to bring a voter to your campaign online.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Introducing 121nexus

121nexus is a platform for engaging with audiences on a one to one basis and providing highly relevant and dynamic digital content to them. The vision for this company is born out of months of hard work on the part of myself and my co-founder, Albert Ho.

We began to build this company in earnest in the summer of 2011. It is now officially the spring of 2012 and I'm pleased to say that we're on track to build something special. With what we have learned we decided it was time to rebrand ourselves as 121nexus from our original corporate name, AgileQR, Inc.

The problem with the name AgileQR is that it over emphasized the QR code aspect of our platform. QR codes are just a feature of what we do. They simply embody the unique link that we create in order to provide a recipient of that link with a personal portal into the person or organization that gave it to them. The ability to create a one-to-one relationship through the portals we create and serve dynamic, relevant content is what ultimately makes our platform special.

We chose the word nexus because its definition is: a means to connect, tie, link. 121 (one-to-one) simply convey the nature of the connections that our platform allows users to establish.

With our initial products, 121campaign and 121constituency, we aim to improve the democratic process and empower voters and constituents with the information they need to know in order to make better decisions and contribute to democracy.

The 2012 election cycle provides us with a tremendous opportunity to validate our technology. But it's only the beginning. We will change the way direct marketing is conducted, the way people are brought on to the web, and the way content is personalized for individuals. We are the web's premier Web 3.0 platform.

Check back here for updates as we continue through the second half of Betaspring, the start up accelerator program based in Providence which we're currently participating in. It's a been a game changing experience for us and we will dedicate a blog to it in the near future.

Lessons from Romney Etch a Sketch Gaffe

There’s been so shortage of media coverage on the Romney campaign’s recent “Etch a Sketch” gaffe. But in case you missed it, here’s what happened.

Appearing on CNN's "Starting Point” Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s senior advisor, said that the absence of a GOP challenge could allow Romney to "hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's like Etch A Sketch," he said. "You can shake it up and we start all over again."

This lead to immediate attacks from Romney's opponents. Rick Santorum said, "He will say what he needs to say to win the election before him, and if he has to say something different because it's a different election and a different group of voters, he will say that too."

Romney has since responded to the statement, saying that “The issues I’m running on will be exactly the same. I’m running as a conservative Republican, I was a conservative Republican governor, I’ll be running as a conservative republican nominee, excuse me, at that point hopefully, nominee for president. The policies and positions are the same.”

What Romney and all politicians should learn is that changing your positions within your platform is bad. My impression is that what Fehrnstrom ought to have said is that they will highlight and emphasize different aspects of their platform for the general election.

That's what 121Campaign is all about. It recognizes that different issues appeal to different voters. That's why it makes it easy for political campaigns to customize landing pages for voters to feature the issues that they care about most, in order to get them more engaged in the campaign.

For campaigns to be agile and effective their focus should be on highlighting relevant content for individual voters and driving engagement because to do otherwise it does indeed come off as "flip-flopping."