how cloud computing impacts the cash requirements of startups

I wrote an article for gigaom on how cloud computing impacts the cash requirements of startups. Do check it out! I think cloud computing is the single biggest factor driving down the amount of cash needed to start a startup. And it’s not so much because it makes computing cheaper, but because you only pay for computing when you need it, after you use it. Anyway, read the whole thing here.

SlideShare launches freemium business model

Over the years, we’ve learned that a lot of people use slideshare for marketing their businesses. Those people have very specific feature needs: things like social analytics (who tweeted my document?) and custom channels (my profile has to convey my brand) and ad removal (self-explanatory ;->). Some enterprise users even need to be able to do things that would seem weird to a consumer, like turn comments off (the reasons for this are usually regulatory).

Today, we’ve announced an offering that makes SlideShare the most complete platform on the web for doing social media marketing. You can upload your documents, presentations, and videos, wrap them in a custom page with your own branding, get advanced analytics to find out who your viewers are and how they arrived on your pages, and track the conversation about your documents and videos on twitter and facebook. You can capture contact information (“leads”) using your documents, and you can view your raw traffic for more clues about who reads your documents and how they got there. We give you everything you need so you can not only use slideshare to reach a huge audience, but quantify the results of that effort to your own organization.

I’m working on a screencast that will show what these features look like … meanwhile check out this case study from Eric Ries for a behind-the-scenes look at how we “pivoted” towards the current offering, making plenty of mistakes along the way!

First thoughts on the Android App Store

I bought an htc incredible from Verizon today. One of my main motivations for switching (from a blackberry) was to understand whether android is a credible competitor to the iPhone. No other platforms have any chance (Blackberry is pathetic, Nokia is dead in the water) so this is a pretty important question! If Android is no good then apple has a lock on the mobile web, which is a pretty scary thought.
First impression: Android definitely lacks the fit and finish of the iphone. It feels like an early windows device in many ways. It doesn’t resonate with me emotionally the way the iphone does, and it’s frankly pretty ugly in places. But the core OS seems “good enough” from a functional standpoint.
Smartphones live and die by there app stores though.  I’ve gotten addicted to iPhone games lately, and religiously buy the top 10 games on the iphone marketplace. So naturally the first thing I checked out on the Android app store was the games category.I was shocked at how bad the games selection was on the Android marketplace. The top games all almost all bad “tower defense” clones. Not a lot of games from major studios (why? porting a game that already sells well seems like a no-brainer to me). Not a lot of the games that have been grand-slam successes on the iPhone. Most games I tried didn’t even have good artwork and looked like they were done by individual developers rather than studios.
The app selection was eye-opening. While most social apps are present and easy to find (foursquare, twitter, facebook, etc), the top apps seem to trend very (for lack of a better word) middle-american. Military survival manuals and bible passages are both huge categories. A lot of the most popular apps are really just repackaged ebooks (Oreilly seems to be doing a particularly good job of getting distribution this way). In general the app market wasn’t as good as I thought it would be, but it was certainly better than the games market, and anything I was specifically looking for (mostly social apps) was available.
So the games suck and the app selection is only so-so. Doesn’t sound good for Android so far, does it? There’s a third category of apps besides games and utilities though. Google is an important enough player in the IT space that a lot of my mobile computing needs have to do with interfacing with google. For example, I use google reader, so a google reader client is a must-have for me. On the iphone I had to buy three applications (total cost: 10$) before I found one that was any good. On android there are several good free applications available. Gmail integration is even better.
Email is obviously a crucial app for a smartphone. And this is where Android *really* shines. I was never happy with the non-threaded nature of the iphone email client (in a small form factor, the top of your inbox gets impossibly cluttered very fast). And using gmail for your domain on the blackberry was surprisingly bad (couldn’t use my existing mail filters, no threading). The gmail app on android works great with a gmail for your domain account and is shockingly fast and easy to use. This is the best mobile email client I’ve ever seen. I anticipate using this app every single day, much more than I did on the blackberry or the iPhone.
At 12 hours in, I’m convinced Android has a shot. The app marketplace is nascent, and I was hoping to see higher-quality inventory and a lot more traction than I saw. Googles play is attacking apple with an open OS that can be bundled by any carrier, and having first-class applications that drive users of the platform back to google. For me and for many other consumers (especially in areas like San Francisco, that are under-served by AT&T) this is a decent solution. But google better get the app store populated with first-class applications by next year, when the iPhone will be available from other carriers.

The cloud is safer than your data center

I’ve moved jonathanboutelle.com over to the amazon computing cloud (from pair.com, where it’s been hosted for the last 5 years). It was dead easy to make a system that keeps your data in safe, redundant storage … MUCH easier than it would be with a typical hosting company.  To be blunt: I think that hosting an app in the cloud is probably much safer than doing it in your own data center.

My setup looks like this:
1) An ec2 small instance server, rented on the spot market (currently costing about 21$/month, 1/3rd of the retail price you’d pay amazon).
2) A 2GB “Elastic Block Store” volume on ec2 for saving the database files and wordpress application files (because if a cloud server goes away, you need to make sure your data doesn’t). The EBS volume is mounted to the EC2 box. It costs like 40 cents a month.
3) One “Elastic IP address” (to map a static IP address to the ec2 machine, which is necessary since it might disappear at any moment).
4) One “Security Group” configured to only let in http traffic from the broader internet (all other ports are blocked).

Both (2) and (3) might seem like overengineering for a simple blog. But they were so easy to set up that it didn’t matter. It was easy and cheap to “do the right thing” and set up a system that could survive the disappearance of the server (maybe with an hour of downtime as I fire up a new node and run a couple of scripts).

Cloud computing basically forces you to take the precautions that you really should be taking anyway, and provides infrastructure that make these precautions trivial to set up. And that means that your app is probably a lot safer in the cloud than it ever was on dedicated hardware!