[joe procopio] about me


Why We Need Triangle Startup Weekend: Women
Addressing the Root Cause of Lack of Women in Startup and Tech

The weekend of October 10th will see the first-ever Triangle Startup Weekend: Women. And it's about time.

Liz Tracy is one of the organizers. She's a friend of mine and someone I've gotten to know while she's helped build the HQ Raleigh startup hub, which also happens to be founded by Brooks Bell, who also happens to be the founder of Brooks Bell.

Liz put in the application this spring. Once it was accepted, she sent an email out to people she knew to ask if they were interested in helping.

"Immediately, I got a bunch of responses and a strong starting point to get this going," she said.

I've always been a big proponent of finding more ways to get women involved in startup and tech. At the first startup I ever founded, my first hire was a woman. At the startup I most recently founded, my first hire was a woman.

What's more is it just happened that way. But I know it rarely happens that way.

While I've been heartened by the progress, I've been disappointed at times with the approach. Calling out companies for the existing makeup of their workforce isn't the right thing to do. Sure, it creates headlines, which one would hope puts pressure on those companies to be more inclusive in their recruiting processes. But that only addresses the symptom, not the cause.

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A Rant Against Bad Startup Advice

Every so often, I find myself at odds with a particular bit of conventional startup advice. Usually, the advice starts out as an innocuous one-liner bequeathed to me that I've re-gifted to others and, at face value, it may make perfect sense.

But at a certain point, the advice gets so blown out of proportion that it loses context. Eventually, it becomes something less than helpful. In extreme cases, it can become harmful.

That's when I open my big mouth and get all contrarian.

The last time I went on such a rant was over advice concerning our startup community and the growing number of startup-related events that were popping up everywhere. Long story short -- conventional wisdom was that there were too many startup events and the advice was that we needed to stop having so many startup events and entrepreneurs should stop going to startup events and get back to work.

This was almost exactly two years ago, so my story needs some context of its own.

The ExitEvent Startup Social was one of the first (if not the first) in a new wave of startup-related events that sprung out of a revitalized startup community in Durham. Yeah, there were startup events and meetups and such, but ExitEvent was sparked the night I went to a startup event attended by 100+ people and wound up talking the whole time to the only other entrepreneur there.

I remember what that was like. I remember when there were exactly zero honest-to-goodness startup events in my startup community. And it sucked, way more than being a little bit annoyed by getting the umpteenth startup-related Evite in my inbox.

So when startup events started exploding shortly after ExitEvent exploded, including two events that spun out of an ExitEvent Startup Social on the same night, my response was rock on, go for it, make some noise.

And when there was a backlash, my contrarian response was: Good entrepreneurs will find the value in good startup events and both will persevere. Shitty entrepreneurs who do nothing but event-hop will gravitate toward the shitty, glitzy events, and both will fail.

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A Common Language for the Internet of Things

The Open Interconnect Consortium, a group of big tech companies including Intel, Samsung, and Dell, announced last week their intention to create and open-source a specification for connecting the billions of things that make up the Internet of Things. This is the sole purpose of this consortium, and they're starting with smart homes, smart offices, and smart cars.

Their mission is to define "the specification, certification, and branding to deliver reliable interoperability" between all wireless-enabled devices across all operating systems: Windows, Linux, Android, iOS, and so on.

In other words, if your smart watch and your smart television can seamlessly talk to one another via this platform, they'll be certified and branded as such. Concepts like user identity, authentication, proximity, onboarding and provisioning, and of course communication, would be plug-and-play between any two certified devices.

As you can imagine, this announcement went out without a ton of fanfare. In comparison to March headlines touting a bot breaking the story of an earthquake, this was a blip.

I can see why. This isn't layperson news. This is rocket science, or rather, robot science. And unless you're talking about the Terminator or Robocop or some other machine putting a human out of a job (and/or eventually killing them), people tend to want to get back to enjoying their slow news day.

But this story has much bigger implications for automated content than the template-driven ramblings of an earthquake sensor.

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Time To Shelve the Turing Test
No, The Turing Test Wasn't Cracked, But It Wouldn't Matter Anyway

So the Internet collectively lost its mind last week on the story that machines had finally caught up to us cagey humans, and that a "supercomputer" called Eugene Goostman effectively passed the age-old Turing Test.

The Turing Test, as defined by British mathematician Alan Turing in 1950, portends that if a computer can fool enough humans into thinking that it itself is human, it can be considered to have the same level of intelligence as a human.

Then, as the dystopian among us would have you believe, they take over.

I had four thoughts on the subject:

1) Bullshit. That's just a chatbot.

As soon as the claim was made, it was challenged. Experts called into question everything from the low number of judges it convinced (10 out of 30) to the fact that the test was undertaken with stipulations on what kind of human this was supposed to be -- specifically, a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy who spoke English as a second language.

I mean, come on, then do the test in Ukrainian.

But the most obvious detraction is that Eugene is just a chatbot.

Human conversation is not a tennis match. It has stops and starts, it has people talking over one another, it builds on the ideas from the other participant. This chatbot, like all chatbots before it, immediately fell into a generation-old chatbot routine:

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It's Tough To Be an Angel (Investor)
There's Still a Lot Of Work To Do At the Seed Stage
Published at ExitEvent

A very odd thing happened at the ExitEvent Startup Social this past Monday night at Boylan Bridge Brewpub in downtown Raleigh.

As usual, we had a great turnout, over 100 entrepreneurs and investors came out for the amazing view of Raleigh's ever-changing skyline, a night out on the deck with perfect weather, great beer (their Scottish is fantastic), and a lot of new faces.

Blah blah blah.

But this time out, a disproportionate amount of these new faces were investors. Sure, we had quite a few regulars -- for example, it was awesome to see SouthCap/BullCity's Jason Caplain back after a couple months hiatus -- but several new Angels and VCs introduced themselves to me that night. I knew their names and their firms, but this was the first time I had met a few of them face to face.

That's always a cool thing, but not a very odd thing.

The very odd thing was that two of the new Angels, one each at two different times, interrupted the cordial conversation to let me know that they were actively looking for new investments, and anyone I could recommend would get a good look.

My reaction was as follows: 1) I've never gotten this request from Angels before and 2) I just got two.

So on one hand, I was intrigued that there was this new hunger for deal flow at the Angel level. But at the same time, it underscored the fact that seed stage investors are having a tougher and tougher time finding the right deal flow.

And I can't decide if that's a good thing (demand) or a bad thing (supply).

read the rest at: http://exitevent.com/its-tough-to-be-an-angel-investor-14523.asp

Why (Good) Journalists Have Nothing to Fear from Automated Content
At Least That's What I Plan to Tell Them

On Friday, May 30th, I'll be speaking at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University at the Quantifying Journalism: Metrics, Data and Computation Conference. I'll be talking about the Robot Reporter trend, based on the four years of work I've done creating over 100 million automated stories via Automated Insights.

100 million stories, each one unique and professionally written, covering everything from news to finance to sports to marketing and beyond. In fact, by the time 2014 is over, Ai will have produced over 1 billion automated articles. And what I plan to tell the gathered Columbia students and assorted journalism professionals at said conference is that we're not going to put any journalists out of work.

Well, any decent journalists, anyway.

I feel pretty good about that bold statement, basically because it's one I've backed up continually over the last four years, although the need to defend our intentions, so to speak, has lessened recently. People are starting to get it now, the fact that automated content works best in situations where live human journalists either can't produce the content, as in the case of the millions of fantasy football recaps we produce every Tuesday morning, or don't want to, as in the compiling of mountains of big data into an easily digestible narrative.

When you consider that, automated content is actually another tool for the hardworking journalist, not competition.

If anything, those who consider themselves data visualists -- the Excel wranglers and infographic ninjas and Powerpoint enthusiasts of the world -- those are the people who should be worried about automated content.

Oh, and you listicle folks, we're definitely coming for you. With prejudice.

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Rebooting the Smart Watch
Why Smart Watches Have To Die So That Wearables Can Live

I'm excited about wearables. I'm pretty much a fitness and a self-improvement nut, I'm a data fanatic, and I see a huge future in the Quantified Self and the Internet of Things. Unfortunately, however, after jumping in with both feet and trying several devices for anywhere from a few days to a few months, here's my verdict on the tech.

I'm no longer wearing any wearable.

Thus, all this marvelous technology is still relegated to niche. To be honest, my six-year-old got more use out of most of the devices than I did, as the most expensive spy toys he's ever been allowed to play with.

I'm not alone in this judgment call. I've read dozens of articles and reviews over the last two months claiming that wearables are still just a trend. And as angry and disappointed as I get with each new failure, each time I read something new I begrudgingly start to nod my head.

But then I remember that smart watches and wearables aren't the same thing. A smart watch is a wearable, but it's just one kind of wearable.

When I consider smart watches as a sector on their own, the technology available today reminds me of Windows smart phones circa 2006. There was so much you could do with them, but it was such a pain in the ass to do it, you never did it.

"Hold on a sec, let me find my stylus."

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Tech Jobs Under the Big Top Draws Huge Crowd, Makes Solid Connections
Clowns, Jugglers, Jobs

I've never had so much fun at a job fair.

As I was walking back from the beer table at Tech Jobs Under the Big Top last night with my second (and final) Top of the Hill Old Well White, replacing the one a Durham police officer had inadvertently knocked off the small table it had been haphazardly placed on (and we had a good laugh, he couldn't have been nicer about it), I decided to hang out at the entry to the event tent and hawk name tags of candidates as they walked in.

Within seconds, a guy walked up with "Data Scientist" on his name tag. I stopped him, introduced myself, and said I'd love to talk to him for a second. He looked at my Automated Insights T-shirt and said, "Cool. I'm here to talk to you anyway."

After about a minute of conversation, I said, "Look, I'll bring you in for an interview tomorrow if you can make it."

And with that, our money was more than well spent.

By 5:15 p.m. (for a 5:30 event), the line to get into Tech Jobs snaked down one block of downtown Durham's Corcoran street and spilled over into a second block. Other folks from Automated took to strolling down the sidewalk, starting conversations with job-seekers as they waited for the event to begin.

What's more is we weren't the only company doing that.

Tech Jobs, as promised, was an aggressive hunt and strong pitch to get about 450 of the Triangle's talent to be interested in working for the 11 startups who paid to present ourselves and our collective hundreds of open positions to them.

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Tech Jobs Under the Big Top Kicks Off Paradoxos 2014
The Popular Reverse Job Fair Goes Festival

The most difficult thing about hosting a great event is that you have to up the ante and keep it fresh every time out. I've made no bones about Tech Jobs Under the Big Top being my favorite local startup event, and it continues to raise the bar in both value and straight-up fun.

And you have to have fun. Otherwise you might just as well go work at IBM.

I've attended every single Big Top since the first, when people still thought it was somewhat crazy to have companies pitch themselves to prospective job seekers in a circus-type atmosphere. And when I say "circus," I mean jugglers-clowns-acrobats-hotdog-peanuts-everything-but-elephants circus, not stand-in-line-for-an-hour-to-have-some-HR-rep-shuffle-me-into-the-ERP-system circus.

An important distinction.

I'll be there April 9th for the spring 2014 version of Big Top, repping Automated Insights as we pitch our open positions. We'll be one of about a dozen startups who will take the stage to promote ourselves to the talent of the Triangle, hoping one or more of you will join our team.

And for the record, I'm not and never have been an HR rep. If you talk to me about joining my team, you'll be talking to me about joining my team, as in we'll work together.

I could reiterate the unique and clever ways Big Top turns a soul-sucking job search into a spirit-lifting celebration of the unsung talent here in the Triangle. I could tell you that it's outdoors this year in downtown Durham, under a real tent which will hold over 450 participants, and it's the kick-off event of the three-day-long Paradoxos, itself a celebration of Triangle startup and culture. I could tell you that every Big Top has sold out.

But when I talk about how Tech Jobs Under the Big Top continually improves upon itself, the tack I'm going to go take is a little out of left field.

Or rather, right field.

You're looking at the view from the Automated Insights offices -- we'll be moving in at the end of April. Not only is this a shameless plug to get you to work for us (Ruby developers and data scientists, seriously, hit me up at jproco.com), but it makes two important points about the improving quality of Big Top.

1) Working at a Triangle startup is no longer a garage-shop proposition

The Triangle startup community has come a long way since that first Big Top. We've got incredible career offerings with solid, financially stable companies with bright prospects for big futures. Sure, we still talk about long hours and hard work, but now we're able to throw in fully-paid health plans, free lunches, and awesome views.

And it isn't just Automated Insights (seriously though, jproco.com, let's talk), Bronto, for one example, has a careers page that's busting at the seams as they grow past 150 people.

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How Deals Got Done at the March ExitEvent Startup Social
A Recap

Monday night was the 29th(!) ExitEvent Startup Social, and by 5:45 p.m. on what turned out to be an fantastic evening, weather-wise, entrepreneurs and investors started trickling in to FullSteam brewery in downtown Durham.

A few were already there. For example, Craig Stone from Triangle Angel Partners had even taken the liberty of scheduling a couple meetings at FullSteam beforehand, and was chatting with Zenph's Kirk Owen (formerly of Merscom and Playdom as well), when I arrived.

It was Owen's first Social. He said it won't be his last.

FullSteam turned out to be a great location -- walking distance for about 20 independently-housed startups, not to mention all the folks from American Underground and AU @Main who were also within a short, pleasant walk. As has been the case with every venue thus far, everyone at FullSteam was incredibly nice and accommodating.

Local is part of the charm, so to speak. When I started ExitEvent, I made it a priority to integrate the event and the site with any willing local vendor, to any extent it made sense.

Thus, we still use Adzerk for ad-serving and Argyle Social for social media. For the first 20-or-so Startup Socials, we exclusively poured Mystery Brewing beer (before they could even sell it), and we're thinking of going to their Public House for April's Social. ExitEvent was a beta customer of BoostSuite, I got initial digital marketing help from MethodSavvy, and we just started using Contactology to eventually replace those all-text emails you get for Startup Social invites and the weekly newsletter.

That will be awesome, because that part of ExitEvent is some of my most horrible coding.

With the acquisition of ExitEvent behind me, and the transition not only going smoothly but already starting to pay dividends, I've gotten wrapped up in another mission. This isn't a startup, there's enough work at Automated Insights to keep me extremely busy for decades. This is a mission, something I'm passionate about making happen.

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Copyright 2014 Joe Procopio • @jproco