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Surprisingly Simple Epic Wins

A surprising amount of simple can get an application over a number of speed bumps. We’re going to look up and down the whole application stack and use stories to show what simple things people have done to build a …

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Always be validating

Big companies with well established products and business practices often differ from smaller, younger, start-up companies with the cash flow available to prove business ideas. The startup companies will often have a “runway” or “burn-rate”, meaning they have a limited …

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Scraping Books to Build a Linked "Thingiverse" of Literary Data

The portable and linkable nature of hypertext enables much of the big data explosion, as we produce an ever-growing amount of linked, machine-readable text every second. But what of the wealth of stories and information to be found in books? Is it doomed to become data exhaust, encased within print media or proprietary eBook formats? The startup Small Demons aims to address that by building a vast relational database of the people, places, things, and ideas in books by scraping publisher-provided eBooks and tapping user-generated human intelligence for additional insight and context.

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TechStars New York will be at Pivotal Labs New York

We're honored and excited to announce that TechStars will be launching their inaugural class at our shiny new Union Square office this January.

We're big believers in getting the smartest people you can into the same room, and the TechStars mentors certainly qualify. They're a who's who of the New York tech scene and beyond, not just names but people with incredible insight, who will clearly have a lot to share with their startups.

We can't wait to see what develops in the new space, and think the cross-pollination of people and insights will be significant.

Applications to TechStars are still being accepted. Check out past results from TechStars companies - they're impressive! It's easy to apply: Just answer 15 short questions about your team and your business on the TechStars web site:

Applications for the New York program close on November 21, 2011, however, early applications are strongly encouraged and they receive get additional consideration. Applications received prior November 15, 2011 are eligible to attend TechStars for a Day to learn more about the program. However, this event often fills up quickly so it's best to apply as early as possible. You can update your application at any time, so don't wait until your application is perfect, ship it!

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The Bold Italic Launches

We're excited that The Bold Italic launched into public beta yesterday. The Bold Italic is a local-content website we developed with Ideo for Gannett. As they describe it, "(Their) mission is to help people become better locals, equipping our members with rare local intel, backstory and potential adventures."

Given our focus on Test Driven Development, I was pleased to see the launch article was on Test Driving. (Test driving pickup trucks in this particular case, but it still made me smile.)

We've had a great experience working with the Gannett 11g team, and producing this powerful, flexible, and hyperlocal publishing platform with them and Ideo. We've been reading the great content they've been writing while it was in Alpha, and are excited that everyone gets to share it now that public beta is here.

We wish them well with their launch!

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Explaining the Value of Agile, Rails and the Cloud

Rob and I were recently asked by a client for some help justifying the choice of Ruby as an implementation language for their SaaS product. They were very happy with the results, but wanted to be prepared to answer investor and customer questions about why Rails was a good choice.

One way that I've been talking about Rails is in the context of what I'm calling "The ARC Model": Agile + Rails + Cloud. I'll borrow from my abstract from my talk at BizConf:

The Ruby on Rails Revolution has been one of productivity and efficiency, and has coincided with an equally powerful revolution in the ownership of technological infrastructure. The Rails approach combines agile methods with a highly productive language to allow developers to focus on developing business value, instead of developing plumbing. The Cloud Computing Revolution at the same time has changed the economics of infrastructure, allowing computation to become a commodity not worthy of developer attention, further enabling developers to focus on that which is truly valuable, Innovation. These three factors, Agile, Rails, and the Cloud, combine to revolutionize the economics of software development and information management, in ways that directly impact return on investment.

The question should not be, “is Rails a safe choice,” but “[how long] can we justify the expense of traditional development approaches.”

I think this kind of approach plays nicely to the strengths of SaaS.

In terms of large enterprise deployments, it's early yet: Enterprises tend to be conservative (about Rails as they are about SaaS) so most of the innovation has been in the startup space, with companies like Hulu being good examples of the disruptive power of Rails.

But that said, there have been some major mainstream Enterprise success stories. AT&T chose to dump a failing Java yellowpages effort in favor of Rails, with excellent results in terms of scalability, time to market, code quality, and performance. (There's a decent write-up on BuildingWebApps.)

We are starting to see major companies develop ever more mission/business/revenue-critical components in Rails. BestBuy built Remix, their new public API app, with us using Rails. We have one major multinational client who is rewriting their entire ERP system in Ruby internally. We have another major hardware vendor building new products using Rails.

Large companies tend to be a bit shy about talking about new technology initiatives, and we suspect that most Fortune 500 companies have someone doing Rails somewhere in the organization. There are a number of others we've spoken to who are using the technology to their advantage, but who aren't ready to talk about it publicly yet. But you can also search for job listings from major companies and see how many big companies are hiring Rails developers. We see them all the time.

Hard statistics are harder to come by, but Mark Driver at Gartner projected that there would be 4 million ruby programmers by 2013. We're already seeing the smart companies get huge efficiencies out of these new development models: efficiencies of cost, flexibility, and time to market.

We're very bullish on Agile, Rails and the Cloud. In the current economic climate, the reduction in risk alone is worth the cost of admission. Coupled with the qualitative benefits of being able to out-flank your competition, it's no surprise that we're continuing to see adoption grow so rapidly. The results are too compelling to ignore.

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Tweed Update: v0.9.8

A new version of Tweed is available! (v.0.9.8)

Bug Fixes

  • memory leak with notifications
  • timeline marker not being preserved when Load More is tapped
  • loading spinner hanging when minimizing during a load
  • preserve tweet position on refresh
  • tweets not always displaying after Load More
  • false notification reports
  • removed Refresh and Load More from conversation timeline
  • notifications stopped when swiping away dashboard with Tweed closed


  • simplified notifications: when enabled, they check every 15 minutes, independent if Tweed is open or closed
  • configure notifications: selectively configure timelines
  • Tap header: option to jump to top/bottom of timeline
  • When loading a timeline, start with marker (if present)
  • load up to 200 tweets when a marker is present (100 tweets for searches)
  • notifications: display badge counter number of timelines with notifications
  • notifications: dashboard stack allows users to cycle through all notification timelines

Coming soon...

  • photo integration (via auto generated email) -- this week
  • configure notifications for bookmarks
  • *

Let us know your feedback either @tweed on Twitter, or






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Pivotal Tech Talks now available on iTunes

For the last year or so, we've been inviting speakers to come visit us and talk about interesting things in the Ruby/Rails space, the agile space, and on topics related to software development in general. We see it as a great way to keep our developers on the cutting edge, and a number of speakers have used it as an opportunity to gather early feedback from our team. We've found the talks we've had to be very valuable to us, and are pleased to share them with the larger community.

To that end, we've posted a selection of our talks to our talks page, and also made them available via the Podcast section of the iTunes Store in both audio and video format.

We've also had a number of panel discussions in our Project Startup and are posting those talks as well.

We'll keep posting talks as we have them. If there are topics you'd like to see, or topics you'd like to present, please email us!

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Entrepreneur Panel: Monetization Strategies for Startups: Great idea, but how will it make money?

Pivotal Labs, in collaboration with VentureArchetypes (, hosted an entrepreneur panel discussion on March 20, 2008.

(Details on the panel can be found at "Monetization Strategies for Startups: Great idea, but how will it make money?")

We had a great turnout and a fantastic panel. Enjoy the podcast.

Thank you again to our panelists:

And our course, thanks to our attendees.

Podcast and Photos

High Concept

Chris Risley, of Bessemer Venture Partners (, first introduced me to the idea of high concept. It is a term borrowed from the film and television industry that summarizes a proposed idea and usually leads a pitch. It is intended to evoke immediate interest and possibly understanding of the idea. For example, YouTube could have been described as "user posted video on the web".

All too often, an entrepreneur over complicates the communication of her endeavor. Besides her passion, she has been spending an enormous amount of time contemplating, refining and planning her new business. So, she rushes to explain all the richness and subtleties of the idea and how its innovation will change the market. She may even assume that you can't fully appreciate the value of the idea without being told all its nuance.

It is true that complete understanding will take some time and exploration. But this isn't a prerequisite of interest and when pitching the idea to a VC, friend and the target market, capturing interest quickly is critical. The audience's attention has to be earned and most will not have the patience of suspending interest while lots of background and tangential information is provided.

Herein lies the power of the high concept; it facilitates immediate interest and understanding. The high concept doesn't have to (and rarely will) capture the breadth and richness of the idea, but some essence that makes a connection with the audience. 

But is can also focus the entrepreneur and this focus is probably more valuable than the mechanism of communicating the idea to others. Entrepreneurs get easily distracted and assume, just as when communicating, their idea needs full implementation before releasing into the market. What they presume is the minimal feature set for a release tends to have fluff that could be removed.

The high concept is a simple litmus test; how does feature X support the high concept? This should not be a slavish rule but a sanity check. As Einstein said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." This focus can save an entrepreneur time and money, particularly at early stages where time-to-market is paramount and final value propositions are still emerging.

I have two favorite examples of high concept. In television, an NBC executive asked Michael Mann to come up with a show based on the idea "MTV cops". The result was Miami Vice and I think it is clear how the show tied to the high concept. In the Web 2.0 space, Meebo is "IM through a web page". Simple and concise, just like the actual product. I think many would envy Meebo's success and attention.

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