Screw the super angels, we need a super user collusion table at Bin-38

OK, screw the super angels. You’ve heard all about those, right?

Well, I’m tired of hearing all about them. Why? They pollute every conversation with talk of valuations. Collusion. Exit strategies. Monetization strategies. Gamification strategies.

How boring.

When I was on stage at Techcrunch Disrupt I had to sit through this kind of talk. Look at the sessions from the first day. It’s all about adding gaming systems to the web. What did they talk about? Pleasing investors (we’re already selling hundreds of thousands of dollars worth) or pleasing brands (we can help brands get more engagement).

Gag me with a spoon.

Did I hear anyone during our session say “users are gonna love this?” Or “we did this to make users lives easier/better/etc?” No!

But it’s worse than that.

When I talk with audiences that have lots of VCs and VIPs in them, like I did last week at Rackspace’s SaaS event, or the week before at VatorSplash (a great event, by the way), I ask them how many new apps they’ve tried on their phones.

Only 5% of those audiences have tried more than 100 apps (I’ve tried more than 500, but have kept 356 on my iPhone. Strike that, I was just at CardMunch today and got one more. 357. Great business card scanning app, by the way).

Just look at Google. There are 3.1 million results for “super angels.” But there’s only 298,000 results for “super users.”

Why is that? Because money talks.

I’m sick of it.

Instead of the Super Angels alledgedly colluding against entrepreneurs, it’s time that the users met at places like Bin-38 and collude to get better products. It’s time that super users get the word out again. It used to be that the tech bloggers were all about users. But, lately, the best user conference, Gnomedex, has closed up shop and the tech press has decided to either talk about new products, people getting promoted/fired/hired, or funding events or exits.

I want a blog that says “Hey, did you hear what Kleiner Perkins sold today? WHO CARES! Did they build a better product?”

I’m to blame, by the way. Why do I say that? Well…

When Facebook opened up its new group feature, did I build a list of super users? No. I built a list of VCs, CEOs, and Tech Influentials.

Gag me with a spoon.

Did I get off my behind and build a Twitter list of super users? No. I’ve built a bunch of them, but none that focus on users.

Do I ask enough questions about how to use a product or service better? No.

Do I get technical info from companies about how to use APIs to build things better for users? No.

Do I hold companies feet to the fire for building crappy user interfaces? Not enough. Yeah, I bashed the first Kindle, but do I do that enough? No.

So, what can we do to make the industry more user-centric?

I’ll try to do my part. I’m looking for people who have more than 100 apps loaded on their mobile phones to start a group of super users. Who is in? Leave your Twitter info and Plancast info here so I can add you to a group.

Oh, and how do you get more than 100 apps? Use Chomp. Appolicious. Or Appsfire.

By banding together we can put pressure on those Super Angels to give us better technology.

Why focus on mobile? Because mobile is seeing the most innovation and change of any platform, by far, and investment too. It’s where users still have some leverage because those super angels will be pushing their companies to get adoption and they’ll want to talk with super users who are willing to try new ideas/apps/services, etc.

Are you in?

Hipmunk takes the pain out of finding and booking flights

This is republished from Building43, where Rackspace finds world-changing startups and shares those with you.

There’s no shortage of web sites where you can book travel, from Priceline to Kayak to airlines’ own sites. But that doesn’t mean that their standard user interfaces work very well. I sat down with Steve Huffman, co-founder of Hipmunk, to learn about his company’s vision for taking the sting out of booking flights. You can see that full interview here, as we visit their headquarters.

“There are dozens of ways of buying tickets online, all of which, in our opinion, are equally bad and painful,” says Huffman. His friend and co-founder Adam Goldstein suggested they create a travel search startup. “It was no-brainer: having been in a bicoastal relationship for the last four or five years, I know how painful it is to buy tickets,” says Huffman. “It can take hours. And by the time you’re done buying the ticket, you wonder why you’re traveling in the first place.”

What makes Hipmunk different than other booking sites? “We try to present the results in a useful way,” explains Huffman. “So instead of a wall of text that might span 35 pages, we have one simple clean interface where you can see the flights. You can see how they compare to one another and how long the flights are. But we also remove a lot of listings from the results–usually around 70 percent right off the bat.” Hipmunk smartly removes obviously undesirable flights, and you can also plug in your preferred airline so it will always appear in your results.

Huffman knows a thing or two about startups: five years ago, he co-founded Reddit, which was then acquired by Condé Nast. He recommends the startup experience to anyone who really wants to do it: “There is nothing to lose, except time. Especially if you’re a college kid. You spent the last four years living in poverty, what’s another couple going to cost? Worst-case scenario, you effectively give yourself an MBA while you’re learning how to start a company. And you’ll probably make a ton of friends along the way and learn a lot about yourself. Best-case scenario is you do all of that, and get really rich.”

More info:
Hipmunk web site: http://www.hipmunk.com/
Hipmunk blog: http://blog.hipmunk.com/
Hipmunk profile on CrunchBase: http://www.crunchbase.com/company/hipmunk

Animoto makes your photos and videos into magic

This is republished from Building43, where Rackspace looks for world-changing startups:

Many of us take a lot of photos—either with smartphones or dedicated cameras. But how do you tie those photos together into a multimedia experience that you’ll really want to share? Animoto is answering that question.

Animoto creates high-quality videos out of your own photos, video, and music. “You upload your photos, or retrieve them from another site, or push from another site—SmugMug is one example. Then you pick a song, or upload your own song, and that’s it,” says Brad Jefferson, CEO and co-founder of Animoto. “A few minutes later, you get a custom-rendered video. The feeling that we’re trying to produce is that you hand in your SD card or your iPhone photo album to a real Hollywood editor, director, and producer. What would they do to create a narrative arc and maximize the emotion from the footage that you’ve taken?” Watch the Building43 video here to see how it works.

Business is good at Animoto (they became profitable in late 2008), and today they announce new partnerships with users of Photoshop.com and Lightroom. “What we’re trying to solve for is just getting Animoto closer to where the photos already are, so that people don’t have to think about going to our site and then re-uploading,” says Jefferson.

Jefferson says there are possibilities for Animoto on every screen, from a Facebook window to your living room TV. “We think this is how video content needs to be consumed, in a style like Animoto, that really pulls from Hollywood production aesthetics. There’s tons of distribution for that, or products it can be associated with,” he says. “Animoto becomes the movie trailer for your experience.”

More info:
Animoto web site: http://animoto.com/
Animoto blog: http://animoto.com/blog/
Animoto profile on CrunchBase: http://www.crunchbase.com/company/animoto

Chevy Volt's chief engineer says "this ain't no hybrid"

This morning I talked with Andrew Farah, chief engineer for the Chevy Volt, and we talked a lot about the reporting in the press that the Chevy Volt is actually some kind of hybrid car. Turns out it could be seen as some kind of “super hybrid” because the gas engine does kick in at some points and can have its energy transmitted to the road. In practice, though, it doesn’t do that in a way that any hybrid owner would recognize (I own a 2010 Toyota Prius, which is a hybrid car. That car uses the gas engine almost constantly to drive the wheels. You can hear and feel the gas engine kick in on almost all accelerations. On the Volt, when I drove it back at the SXSW conference, the gas engine never kicked in.

Anyway, we cover a few of the interesting points of the drivetrain and battery technology that’s underneath this interesting car.

Why do I care?

Because I think, as an American, that one of the most important issues of our time is to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. To do that we need all sorts of innovations to reduce our use of gasoline. Plus, I’m now seeking out conversations every day about world-changing technology and this definitely applies (if you have a world-changing technology you’d like to talk with me about, send me email at scobleizer@gmail.com or give me a call, like Andrew did, at +1-425-205-1921. Using CinchCast on my iPhone I can record our phone call and put it up within minutes for everyone to listen to.

Will the Chevy Volt win in the marketplace? I don’t know.

Is it fun to drive? Absolutely. It accelerates faster than my Prius does.

Does it use less gas? Absolutely. For the first 40 miles you don’t use much gas at all. Since most of the time that’s more than the miles I drive every day that would be perfect for me (you plug it in at night to charge it up).

Anyway, Americans love their cars and I love talking car tech with smart people who build these things. Hope you enjoy and hope you consider one of these new electric (or super hybrids) ones for your next car purchase. Here you can watch my test drive of the Chevy Volt (I will try to do another test drive of the final car soon):