@techvitamin 2.7: T.A. McCann, serial entrepreneur, ex-pro sailor, on healthcare tech and grinding it out

If you're competing with T.A. McCann in the startup world, know that he's raced around the world in boats, in horrible conditions, and has probably surrounded himself with people who, like him, will not complain because they enjoy the grind -- after they've been strategic and have arrived at the race with the tools to win. Which he's done. A lot.
T.A. McCann

If you’re competing with T.A. McCann in the startup world, know that he’s raced around the world in boats, in horrible conditions, and has probably surrounded himself with people who, like him, will not complain because they enjoy the grind — after they’ve been strategic and have arrived at the race with the tools to win.

Which he’s done. A lot.

T.A. was the Founder and CEO of Gist, which he sold to Research in Motion in 2011. He’s also a relentless contributor to the Seattle startup scene, whether as part of TechStars or Startup Weekend, as an Angel investor or now as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Providence.

It’s fun to talk about sailing as a metaphor for the startup life. The parallels are clear, and being a member of an Americas Cup crew, and working with Larry Ellison so closely, is such rarified experience that it’s worth covering a bit, which we do.

If you're competing with T.A. McCann in the startup world, know that he's raced around the world in boats, in horrible conditions, and has probably surrounded himself with people who, like him, will not complain because they enjoy the grind -- after they've been strategic and have arrived at the race with the tools to win. Which he's done. A lot.
T.A. McCann’s boat in the Americas Cup

Outside of sailing, we cover a lot of ground, including his investment theses (data, mobile, and being attracted to things he himself would find useful); how to get healthcare tech into the hands of populations that need it but maybe can’t acquire or use it easily (old or poor or both); whether the insurance industry would completely subsidize the distribution of smart devices, say, if it led to better outcomes; whether the AI Doctor is more of a stand alone “entity” or whether it’ll mostly augment.

Here’s a clip of T.A., talking about the types of people and ideas he’s looking to meet and potentially invest in or collaborate with:

Have a listen!

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@techvitamin 1.4: Ford Davidson, Founder/CEO of Coolr and Dashwire

Shree joins me as guest host for this episode with Ford Davidson, a born entrepreneur who in the little more than a decade since he's been out of college, has been a fast tracked Product Manager at Microsoft, founded and sold Dashwire to HTC, worked his earn out by building a global product organization, and started another company, Coolr...which he's recently wound down. Ford has a badass twitter handle too: @blackball.
Ford Davidson, Entrepreneur

Shree joins me as guest host for this episode with Ford Davidson, a born entrepreneur who in the little more than a decade since he’s been out of college, has been a fast tracked Product Manager at Microsoft, founded and sold Dashwire to HTC, worked his earn out by building a global product organization, and started another company, Coolr…which he got funded, but has recently wound down. Ford has a badass twitter handle too: @blackball.

Ford is a creative force, and easily one of the most enthusiastic product people I know. His trademark “sweeet!” is generously given to other people’s ideas and product, and he remains one of the more humble home-run hitters out there.

Failures can be powerful growth experiences, and I’m sure Ford will benefit from having stepped up to the plate again. Coolr was inspired by the idea that organizations operate better when employees know what’s going on, and when managers connect with their teams. Ford gives a candid assessment of what they did well and didn’t, the role that investors played in timing and roadmaps, and what they’d do differently.

We contrast Coolr with Slack’s funding and development path — $10M of investment, zero revenues, and a huge pivot, before the current, glorious product emerged.

But we also talk about best practices org info flow at Google, Amazon and Microsoft, “holocracies”, why apps like TinyPulse work and sometimes don’t, and more. If you want to be a manager today, you’d better be ready for more transparency — and more data driven assessment of your performance — than ever before.

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Blaise leads a team at Google focusing on Machine Intelligence for mobile devices—including both basic research and new products. His group works extensively with deep neural nets for machine perception, distributed learning, and agents, as well as collaborating with academic institutions on connectomics research. Until 2014 he was a Distinguished Engineer at Microsoft

@techvitamin 1.1: Google’s Blaise Aguera y Arcas on Machine Intelligence

Blaise Aguera y Arcas talks Machine Intelligence and inventor of Photosynth
Blaise Aguera y Arcas (@blaiseaguera)

In this first episode of @techvitamin, Blaise Aguera y Arcas (Google) and Michael Cohen (Facebook) join us to discuss Machine Intelligence (MI) across a broad range of subjects, including it’s impact on art (and the impact of technology in general on art), how MI research should be funded, the collaboration between Academia, Business and Government, and much more.

Can machines now create art, independently of humans? Blaise and Michael talk a bit about DeepDream, and the resulting images’ similarity to those conjured by the human brain (perhaps just a tad under the influence). Here’s one:

Animated DeepDream image courtesy of @samim and Github, from Blaise Aguera y Arcas talks machine intelligence
Courtesy GitHub/@samim

We touch on the recent defeat of a Go world champion by Google artificial intelligence: “…the last nail in the coffin of games being an indicator of human intelligence.”

Blaise leads a team at Google focusing on MI for mobile devices—including both basic research and new products. His group works extensively with deep neural nets for machine perception, distributed learning, and agents. Blaise is a well-known speaker on subjects ranging from digital photography to mapping. He’s given three TED talks: on Seadragon (a company he sold to Microsoft in 2006); on Photosynth, which he invented at Microsoft, and Bing Maps.  He’s gave a talk at WIRED2014 entitled “The next big frontier is the mind and the brain.”

Before Google, Blaise was a Distinguished Engineer at Microsoft, where he worked with Michael, who is one of our group of rotating @techvitamin co-hosts. Before his current gig as image and video guru at Facebook, Michael spent 21 years in Microsoft Research, and is one of the world’s foremost thinkers on computational photography (aka, getting photons turned into bits). Both Michael and Blaise were at Princeton (as faculty and grad student, respectively).

We’re always looking for community feedback, so feel free to comment below (or on Twitter, FB, or your preferred vehicle). And please, LIke/Share/(re)Tweet to your heart’s content. We’ll steadily improve the audio (all participants are remote from each other, so we’re a little dependent on mic quality, Skype clarity, etc.). We have a good outtake of Blaise scrambling to find another room at Google HQ after getting kicked out of the one he was in. And, we’ll tweak the show — to a depth and length that makes sense. For instance in this episode, we probably could have talked for much longer, but chose to cut things off to keep it under an hour. Might make sense to keep it going. We’ll get better.

1Blaise mentions a study about government research dollars seeding much of the technology in the iPhone. He was thinking of work by Mariana Mazzucato.

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