And the fat lady sings again …

I’m leaving the EasyBits Group and EdSys Educational Systems (a subsidiary of the EasyBits Group).

I joined a little over 2 years ago … a fairly short time … but have packed an amazing amount of experience into those 25 months. That includes over 160,000 kilometres of air travel to destinations as diverse as Cairo and Shanghai, contacts and great relationships with people at companies such as Intel, ASUS, HP, and Smart. And it includes countless hours of individual and group work as we slaved away at all the things you need to do at a startup to get off the ground.

I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would, had amazing opportunities to build and grow partnerships with major international corporations, participated in too many late night calls with Asian partners to remember …

It’s been a fun, wild ride, and here are some of my favorite memories:

  • Landing the position in the first place and getting the opportunity to make a real difference in a software start-up as COO.
  • Presenting our future plans at an Intel QBR (quarterly business review) in Portland in early 2009 and getting a great response.
  • Working with Ellis Wang (pretty much the inventor of the netbook) and others at ASUS to create a great new product category.
  • Visiting Disney HQ in Glendale, CA to work with Jieun and others in their consumer products group and create a Disney specific laptop, the Disney Netpal: email, browser, desktop, UI … all Disney, Disney, Disney.
  • Meeting Bob Gregory and Luke Donnelly at Intel HQ in Santa Clara, CA to pitch them on a digital publishing vision in education and beyond that started a year-long engagement in which EasyBits tried to define the future of educational publishing (the jury’s still out on this one).
  • Launching as a culmination of all our efforts in creating a great suite of products for tech-centric schools.
  • Speaking at an Intel conference in Cairo … I arrived from Amsterdam at 3AM, made it to the hotel by 5AM, slept for 2 hours, hired a car and driver, drove to the pyramids, rented a camel and guide, and explored for half a day. We came to the pyramids from the Sahara side, not the Cairo side, and early in the morning there was no-one there … it was as if a thousand years had just disappeared from the calendar and we were alone in the desert and with the pyramids. The speech went very well, too!
  • Taking half a day later at that same Cairo conference and exploring Giza, Sakara, and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo with Paulo and Marcello from MetaSys in Brazil, and Frank from Monaco. We got lost in a souk, cheated by a taxi driver, stunned by Tutankhamun’s mask, grossed out by Cleopatra’s entrails in an alabaster box, and chilled out eating lunch by the pool. Amazing day and a half!
  • Presenting at another Intel conference in Porto, Portugal. I flew into Lisbon at midnight, obeyed the GPS, promptly spent an hour bombing around the backstreets of the capital before getting on the expressway and arriving in Porto at about 3AM. The conference was amazing, in the old Alfandega, and we met political and educational leaders from Macedonia, Brazil, Portugal, Spain, and many other countries. Later I took a day in Lisbon and explored that amazing city … the Castillo San Jorge, the Lisbon Cathedral (built in 1147!), and the amazing Baixa or downtown area.
  • Starting a conference call at 11:30 PM. Before this role, I had mostly done business in North America … so the biggest time changes were generally 3 hours. However, with EasyBits our key partners were in Europe, North America, and Asia … so the time differences were huge. Calls with Chinese and Taiwanese partners generally started at 5PM and got worse, with 7PM being the most common. However, 11:30PM was the latest conference call start time I can recall.
  • Seeing our software on millions of CMPCs (classmate PCs – Intel’s reference computing platform for schools) … both Blue Dolphin and Inspirus Desktop. Our software was included as part of Intel’s core stack for both education and retail units – a major accomplishment.
  • Creating multiple great marketing and training presentations in Flash for our partners … consisting of screencasts, images, text, audio (in multiple languages), and animation. We produced a suite of software with 5 components working in concert for multiple parties, including a server process that tied everything together, so presenting it in a simple, effective way was essential.
  • Working with a remote development team, mostly in the Ukraine. This presented serious challenges of language and time zones, not to mention cultural differences in work and communication styles, but in spite of the problems, enabled us to create very significant software solutions in far less time, and with a fairly advantageous cost structure as well.
  • Meeting Patrick from Smart in Santa Clara at another Intel QBR, and going with him, Meghan Desai and Bob Gregory of Intel to 3-4 different restaurants in Cupertino, including one right at 1 Infinite Loop, where we ordered a tiny Belgian beer with a dragon on the lable … 20% alcohol by volume.
  • Learning to work with Ilya Kruglenko, our CEO/CTO, and my Russian boss. At the beginning of our relationship, I really did not understand what made him tick. Initially devoting perhaps 30% of my personal CPU cycles to just deciphering the words he was saying didn’t help. But, learning Ilya’s style and personality over the years … and getting better at understanding his accent … was critical to communicating and working well together.
  • Meeting Lars, our co-founder and VP of marketing, in Houston, Texas for meetings with HP. We had amazing meetings with great reception to our thoughts and ideas, and then went to an incredible steakhouse. The bill for the two of us was almost $350 … but it was a meal to remember.
  • Thinking about food, a meal in Porto, Portugal with Lars, Tiago, and Tito from EasyBits, and Sabine from Intel, as well as an Austrian judge (don’t ask!). We were in the restaurant by the river Douro for probably 4 hours, and they just kept bringing more courses, more food, more cheeses, more meats, more wine, more deserts, more everything. It was probably the most amazing meal of my life … and there was great company and conversation, as well.
  • Visiting our Intel partners in Shanghai. We worked for days in their mammoth campus, building a mountain of Diet Coke cans in the conference room (some Chinese didn’t drink, because cold drinks cause ill health) and then went to dinner together where I ate snake as well as Chairman Mao’s favorite food: red braised pork. There’s a reason he was a little porky himself …
  • Working at home in basement office … and not commuting. Commuting is something I’ll have to get used to again in my new role (more on that later). Working at home has definite upside … but also a downside: you never leave the office.
  • Finally … one of the last days, the day I told Ilya I was leaving. We were at the Intel Developer Forum conference, and spent an hour and half walking the streets of San Francisco, talking it over. That night, we had a great dinner and polished off a bottle of wine together. It was a great, amiable, wonderful end to an excellent business relationship.

It has been a very busy couple of years with EasyBits, and I’m grateful for all the memories. Here’s to all of my colleagues there – Ilya, Lars, Tiago, Tito, Kate, Simone, Nick, Alex, Ivan, Igor, Andrey … I wish you the very best of everything in the future.

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BTW, I’ll be announcing my new role shortly, but generally, it’s in the mobile/social/local search space. This is the hottest place to be in technology right now, and I’m looking forward to it with a LOT of excitement.

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UPDATE October 14, 2010:
I’ve already updated my LinkedIn status, but here’s the on-blog announcement of my new position


9 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I am glad to see eating snake made your list :). I created at least one fun memory so my day is good.

  • I am glad to see that it has been an eventfull ride. I knew you would be great at the job. Looking forward to hearing about your next adventure.

  • It was a pleasure to get to know and work with you, John.
    I wish you all the best at your new role and I’m curious to know more about it. I’ll wait for the next episode! ๐Ÿ™‚
    To celebrate your sucess, here’s to you (with Port!):)

  • Hey,
    Congrats on the new job! It was great that we got acquainted and I hope our paths cross again. It is a small world after all! I’m a bit sad to see you leaving the educational area since I much appreciated your energy here! I still believe it is THE hottest area of all, though slow it may seem, and it will eventually explode. I’m sure social media will be a part of that explosion so you’ll be around here again in no time!