Companies cultivate ideas at 'Greenhouse' forum

The Techdirt Greenhouse workshop was about sharing new tech products and getting feedback on how to make them flourish.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
3 min read
SUNNYVALE, Calif.--Thinking of starting an online storage company?

Either "partner with a sugar daddy company," "do what the big guys like Google and Yahoo won't," or "do it faster than they can and sell it to them," was the advice from attendees at a workshop Saturday on business strategies for technology companies.

Openomy, a two-person Chicago-based start-up that offers one gigabyte of storage for free, was one of eight companies giving presentations at the Techdirt Greenhouse event, sponsored by Techdirt, a provider of market and competitive information to large corporations.

Openomy hopes to differentiate itself by having developers create interesting applications using Openomy's application programming interface (API), said company co-founder Ian Sefferman. "To us, the Web site is less important than the APIs," he said.

Given that Google appears to be working on a GDrive online storage service and free storage is widely available with e-mail and other programs from Google, and others, attendees were tasked to advise Openomy on how to compete against the big players.

After breaking into smaller groups, advice emerged.

Chris Sims, founder of Humble Consulting, said Openomy might want to consider finding a sugar daddy, a larger company to fund it. Or Openomy could specialize in areas that the bigger companies aren't focused on, like privacy or porn, he joked.

Finally, he suggested: "Don't do it. And we don't mean that in a bad way. We mean that if the idea of the open API (and having) your data out in the cloud really gets you goin, go to a company that can sponsor" that as a project.

Sefferman was not deterred.

"Nothing was discouraging, just reinforcing," said the 21-year-old. "Knowing what not to do is as important as knowing what to do."

Another company seeking advice was SpeedInfo, which operates a network of low-cost, battery-operated, solar-charged and wirelessly connected sensors that monitor traffic conditions on roadways. The company is trying to figure out how to monetize the data, which is more accurate and timely than the traffic reports broadcast over the radio, said Ron Goodall, vice president of operations.

Ideally, the data would be piped into cars equipped with navigation systems, he said. However, to get contracts with satellite-based radio services, the company needs to have a sensor network in at least 10 cities, he said. Currently, SpeedInfo is filling in coverage gaps left by the California state sensor network in the Bay Area and providing data to 511.org.

"Honda and General Motors launched new cars last year with a built-in navigation system and a digital pipe XM Radio receiver (that can)...deliver real-time traffic information to the car," Goodall said. "Some applications will be visual-based, (with) a color-coded traffic map with yellow, red and green on it."

Commendo has patent-pending technology, a partnership with Intel and a business model--subscriber and ad-based--but has struggled with describing the product to the public, said Reynaldo Gil, the company's chief executive.

"Defining it is the biggest challenge," he said. "We came here to test some of the messages and get feedback. It helped us really hone the story."

Ultimately, an adequate description arrived over lunch and drinks after the event. Commendo is "the world's fastest browser" that speeds up Web surfing and allows people to store cached Web pages on their hard drive for offline access, said Erik Hoogerhuis, Commendo's vice president of sales in North America. "It's a 150-megabyte microserver on the PC that records Web pages, Flash, even Google Maps."

A start-up called Gabbly showed off software that lets people create an instant live chat session about any page on the Web by adding "gabbly.com" to the URL or typing the URL into Gabbly's Web page. The chat session can be saved and sent to an RSS reader for archiving.

Given that there are so many instant messaging applications available and under development, "there's a blood bath coming up," said Jeff Clavier, founder of SoftTech Venture Consulting. "Do something fast and do something different."