Tag - easybits

EasyBits Go & Skype: you are not being hacked

In my regular morning scan of Techmeme, I noticed that my former company, EasyBits Software, is in some hot water.

Not cool. Fairly explosive stuff. Not what you want to wake up to in the morning, if you’re EasyBits.

I left EasyBits about a year ago to pursue more interesting options in SOLOMO (social, local, mobile solution). But I can make some educated guesses about what’s going on. Here’s the deal, as far as I can see:

EasyBits has been making their game channel for years. It’s one of the first “app store” models online. It’s real, it’s not dangerous, and it’s well-intentioned. EasyBits and Skype have a long relationship and a long history, and an agreement on providing the game channel for Skype.

The problem is that it comes almost as a sort of payload with Skype … the Skype Extras manager. As such, it’s not something that people are intentionally downloading and installing. And EasyBits is not necessarily the most adept at informing users about what it’s doing … after all, their goal is to get installed. Perhaps not at all costs, but perhaps not smelling like roses either.

I can’t claim any insider knowledge right now, but everyone knows that Microsoft is buying Skype. One can only assume that EasyBits might see Microsoft’s acquisition as a major threat: when Skype is theirs, they will naturally fully review all agreements, all code, all relationships … and who know what they’ll keep and what they’ll throw.

Therefore, if you’re EasyBits, you’ll probably thinking about life after Microsoft. And that means independent existence on users’ PCs, courtesy of Skype initially, but with a separate existence.

Well, combine that desire with perhaps not the highest regard for users’ preferences, or a clumsy update (including a spelling mistake, after all) … and you’ve got the current situation.

Here’s what’s obvious to me: Skype, with the acquisition finalizing, isn’t going to take any chances.

EasyBits is not going to get out of this one easily.

Local search, plus mobile, plus a dash of social

Just a few short days ago (it seems) I posted my swan song to EasyBits Software. But I didn’t give any precise details on where I was going …

So, for those who haven’t seen it on my LinkedIn account, yes, I have joined Canpages! Canpages is exciting for me for a bunch of reasons.

First of all, it’s back to the web. That’s my first love, that’s what I’m passionate about, and that’s what I eat, breathe, drink. The reality is: installable software is getting less and less important. More and more intelligence and also computing capacity is transferring to the cloud. So that was an important consideration.

Secondly, it’s mobile and social. Canpages has several iPhone apps and a BlackBerry app … and in fact one of the first things I’m working on here is apps. More on that soon from Canpages.ca – look for the press releases! We’re already social with a number of different web properties that we own, and it’s only going to increase. Again, can’t give any more details here and now, but look for big things in the near and medium-term future.

Third, Canpages is local search. Local search is the holy grail right now. It’s what Yelp and Facebook and Bing and Google and Yahoo! and FourSquare and so many other companies are working on. And guess what: Canpages is leading the industry in Canada, and with some of the things in our pipeline, we’re going to grow our presence and capabilities substantially.

That’s the other major part of what I’m working on: canpages.ca, the website. The user experience, the UI, the traffic strategies, the conversion rates … the product. I’ll also be managing several of our other web properties, GigPark, ZipLocal, and Urban Pill.

Finally, coming out of a very lean start-up scenario, not having to manage the HR stuff, the benefits, the finance, etc. etc. etc., and just being able to wear the product hat … it feels good. I feel like I can focus on the things that I care most about.

So: looking forward to what we can do here. Stay tuned!

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 EdSys.com 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

Open Office for Kids

Just saw this today – an Open Office for kids. Essentially, it looks like a slimmed-down set of features that would be simpler for kids to useL

Would be nice to see them go the extra mile and completely redesign the interface from the bottom up for kid friendliness. My company is currently releasing exactly that – more details later!

Thank-you gift from Disney: $350 worth!

Over the past 6 months I’ve worked on a project with Disney to equip the Disney NetPal with software that makes it kid-safe and parent-friendly.

Today I got a massive box via Fedex, with this inside:

It’s Disney merchandise – they know I have kids – including MP3 players, cameras, Club Penguin plushies, playing cards, camera cases … you name it … from Jonas Brothers and other tween-friendly names that I’m not sure I’m familiar with, but probably will be soon. My wife checked it out and it’s no less than $350 USD worth on Amazon.com.

Very cool – thank you Disney … especially Jieun and Ryan!

We're on the BBC

Many months of hard work are culminating at BETT as Intel is announcing the new Classmate PC, for which my company is building a critical component.

And it’s nice to see the world take notice. Here, from the BBC:

The laptop comes preloaded with educational software, including Algodoo, a 2D simulation environment designed to explain physics, and the Easybits Magic Desktop, a simplified Windows-based interface.

Emphasis added by me, of course. Of course, it’s much more than a simplified Windows desktop. Much, much more. But I’ll let the details come out on the EasyBits website.

There are some nice screenshots (well, actually pictures of operating Classmate PCs) on the recent ArsTechnica post from CES … particularly the one half-way down.

That’s featuring something a little different than Magic Desktop, but it’s also from us. Again, there will be more details from the corporate website fairly soon.

Developers, developers, developers, developers

Week two of my brand-new job is coming up tomorrow. Here’s what I need:

  1. Office space in Richmond, BC, for 10-20 people
  2. Accounting, Bookkeeping, and Payroll services, ideally all from one provider
  3. Developers, developers, developers, developers
    (Just channeling Steve Ballmer in text here … what I need are Delphi developers, including at least one who speaks Russian.)

  4. Technical writer who understand usability and can write UI strings, help, & maybe even some marketing-type text
  5. Once the office is in place, internet, phone, supplies, etc.
  6. Once the developers are hired, computers, screens, software, etc.

If you know someone who can help with any of the above, give me a shout!

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OK, just for fun, here you go:

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

Today is the day.

While I’m on-call for another week, and will return to the office next Friday for a cake&coffee with the team, I’m leaving the company that I’ve been with for 15 years (give or take a month).

That’s 15 years through 7 different jobs:

  1. Research Assistant
  2. Staff Writer
  3. Marketing Project Manager
  4. Technology Solutions Manager
  5. Director of Home & Family markets
  6. Product Manager
  7. Director of Product Development

And 15 years through 3 different ownership stages:

  1. Premier (small, closely held company)
  2. FranklinCovey (medium-sized public company)
  3. SchoolSpecialty (largish public company)

And 15 years through 8 different bosses:

  1. Harold Ludwig
  2. Theodore Kingma
  3. Patricia Loeppky (now Newbold)
  4. Jim Gibson
  5. Kevin Moore
  6. Larry Renooy
  7. Joel Zucker
  8. Bob Lynch

What a wild ride it’s been, from a company that did about $40 million in annual business to a company that does over $130 million yearly. From a small family-run operation to a cog in a billion-dollar public corporation. From a small, cramped office in a leaky Abbotsford building to the former President’s (Henk Berends) corner office in Langley, and then to Bellingham, WA.

The opportunities I’ve had have been incredible. Just one of them is the travel, which has enabled me to go to San Francisco multiple times, Silicon Valley, Salt Lake City multiple times, Seatle, Portland, Wisconsin, Asheville North Carolina, San Diego multiple times, New Orleans, Virginia Beach, Texas multiple times, Florida multiple times, Quebec, Phoenix, Whistler, Winnipeg multiple (multiple multiple) times, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Moose Jaw (!?!), and many more places. Business travel is not always all it’s cracked up to be, but I always made a point of seeing or doing something at each place that I could not have seen or done at home … and so it has enriched my life.

Other opportunities have been career development. I started with Premier almost right out of Simon Fraser University. I had some previous experience managing a retail sports store … but Research Assistant was my first real career job. From that beginning people and experiences at Premier taught me product development, marketing, and basic business realities. My interest in technology grew significantly while at Premier, and the company had an opportunity for me to start and lead a web development department. From that, I moved on to other interesting and challenging jobs, including the one I’m currently leaving from: Director of Product Development. What a blessing! I feel truly fortunate and blessed to have had the career opportunities that I’ve already had.

But probably the best opportunity at Premier has been the people. Meeting and working with the amazing people at Premier … the David Leoppky’s, the Henk Berends, the Joel Zuckers … and so many more. I can’t – really can’t – name them all, but ones that really stand out are Pat Graham, Brandon Bird, Foeke van de Poel, Kelly DeVries, Bruce Morris, Sibrand Stulp, Andrew Westrink, Raymond Kenny, Teresa Alexander, Brad Kuik, Kevin Moore, Jane Hix, John Flokstra, Jonathan Catherman, Harold Ludwig, Wim Kanis, Natalie Critchley, Ronnie Zindorf, Larry Huinker, John Wesselius, Steve Misenhimer, Rastin Mehr, Arie Veenendaal, Ray Kuik, Dave Shoots, Bob Goodman, Diego Rodriguez, Sheldon Atkinson, Dominique Fugere, Francois Lupien, David Boone, Larry Renooy, Tom Osborn, Mike Skovgaard, Bernie Van Spronsen, Lisa Peumsang, Brian Koning, Steven Leyenhorst, Anita Lofgren, Phil Minderhoud, Tyler VanVliet, Bram Vegter, and Cheryl Vandeburgt. There’s more … I know there’s more, and I apologize if your name isn’t there. But those are the ones that came to mind. We had a great run together, and I wish you all the very best of everything.

Some of my favorite memories of these 15 years are:

  • Running the annual convention in ’98 or ’99 in Victoria, BC – the first convention that we made a huge splash with a major show-biz type presentation. That was a blast!
  • Bringing out the Discover Zone … an online learning, edutainment, productivity, and groupware environment in 2002-2003. What an application it was, and what excitement it generated!
  • The convention we held in Quebec, about 3 hours North of Quebec City along the banks of the St. Lawrence. 35 or so of us stayed in the hotel lobby/bar until 1 or 2 AM, singing around the piano and generally enjoying each others’ company.
  • Visiting our partners The FaQtory in Winnipeg in the winter and playing outdoor ice hockey at Ray Kuik’s house in -20 degrees Celcius … in shirtsleeves because we were so hot from the exercise.
  • Building out a new department when I became Technology Solutions Manager. Finding space, painting, furnishing, hiring, and managing … tons of fun!
  • A lunch with Henk Berends when he pointed out a serious error in judgement that I was making in a very gentle, tactful way, and saved me from a major, major disaster.
  • Playing hockey with the Canadian sales team at their regional meeting this year.
  • Giving a presentation on Royal Dutch Shell-like scenario planning at one of our company’s top meetings in ’97 when I was still young and green, and hearing via the grapevine that Chuck Farnesworth said “that kid made more sense than all the rest of them put together!”
  • Getting to write for audiences of tens of millions when I was a staff writer. Our product goes out to over 20 million students internationally, and their parents and teachers view it as well.
  • Pulling an all-nighter with David Boone to get the Premier website ready on-time in ’98.
  • Boogy-boarding in 10-foot San Diego waves in ’96, dislocating my shoulder in the surf, and swimming 100 feet back to shore one-handed.
  • Working for a month on a Discover Agenda presentation to executive in 2007, presenting it, and getting an unbelievable reception.
  • Getting the 3-day training sessions on 7 Habits as well as the Organizational Effectiveness Model when we joined FranklinCovey.
  • Going to San Antonio for a conference and staying at the Emily Morgan hotel in a suite looking directly down into the Alamo.
  • Getting a massive one-day raise in 2001.
  • Jim Gibson’s last day, when he came to me at our north campus. We found an available office; he told me he was leaving; and we prayed together before he walked out the door.
  • Imitating Henk Berends’ speech style in a send-off at his retirement banquet, and managing to do it well.
  • Winning the company-wide crud tournament with Loren VanCorbach and Sheldon Atkinson at the Portland conference in 2007 while playing the last few games on a severely sprained ankle.
  • Taking off from the Phoenix conference with a colleague (Mike Suto) in a van, not knowing where we were going, and finding the most amazing still quiet desert spaces where we stood still and silent for minutes just to hear nothing, and then continuing on to find a deep, cold desert lake.
  • Climbing the foothills of the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City during a visit to FranklinCovey.
  • Setting up a ping-pong net on my Technology Solutions department “boardroom” table to knock away the tensions of long, busy days.
  • And far more than I can list …

I have been very blessed, and very happy to have been a part of Premier from December of 1994 to November of 2008. And while I’m eagerly looking forward to new challenges, I’ll remember these times and people with fondness and some nostalgia.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu!