Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Steven Hyden, Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock (Dey Street Books, 2018)

Occasionally we have moments of clarity, times when something in our environment reaches out and whacks us in the head and we wonder why we didn’t notice it before because it was so obvious.

I had one such moment of clarity some time ago as I went about running errands on a typical Saturday morning. A stop at Walgreen’s to pick up a prescription: I briefly tune into the background music — hey, that’s Queen — and for a moment I’m transported back to 1976. Off to the grocery store, where Styx greets me. A quick stop into a fast food restaurant. You guessed it: my dining experience is accompanied by tunes from the 1970s and 1980s.

It’s been this way for a long time. It’s like I’m moving through life in a bubble in which music that was popular during my young adulthood is continually cycling. This didn’t happen with my parents’ music, as good as some of it is in retrospect. No, this must have something to do with demographics, the economic power of my bulging boomer generation. Play our music, and we’ll more readily open our wallets. For younger folks, it’s enough to fuel an “OK Boomer” response. But, if you’re an entrepreneur with potential customers in the Boomer generation, you may want to think about incorporating some classic 70’s rock into your marketing (just don’t do it without consulting a knowledgeable IP lawyer before you do). 

Let’s face it: without the memories, some of this stuff just isn’t that great, as Steven Hyden observes in his Twilight of the Gods. In a nutshell, Wikipedia informs us, this new elevator music comprises “commercially successful songs by white male acts from the Anglosphere, expressing values of Romanticism, self-aggrandizement, and politically undemanding ideologies.” Yup, that’s pretty much it. And I suspect it will be with us until my generation’s buying power dwindles away.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Congratulations to the Participants in the Minnesota Cup!

I was at the Minnesota Cup Final awards ceremony Monday evening. Having been at this event for just about all of its 15-year existence (we’ve been a sponsor of the Cup almost since inception), it’s always great to see all the energy and enthusiasm generated around all of the finalists.

In case you weren’t paying attention, or have been too busy with all the other Twin Cities Startup Week activities in the last week, the overall winner was Abilitech Medical, a company developing wearable devices to assist people dealing with neuromuscular conditions that restrict upper limbs. Abilitech had a super successful night, not only winning the $50,000 grand prize (in addition to the $30,000 it had won as winner of the LifeScience/Health IT division), but another $25,000 from the Carlson Family Foundation as the top woman-led team in the competition this year!

Resonant Cavity, makers of the Voloco app that lets you do voice processing to add automatic tuning, harmony, vocoding, and other tricks to your track, won second place and added $25,000 to its winnings as High Tech division winner. For the record, my younger daughter thought the Voloco app was pretty cool when she downloaded it after I had mentioned to her that I met one of the founders at a Minnesota Cup semi-finalist event we hosted.

Monday, October 14, 2019

You are not alone

This week (October 9-16) is startup week here in the Twin Cities. It is a time when you can find entrepreneurs, from all walks of life throughout various corners of the metro area, coming together to learn from and celebrate each other. There is something on the agenda for almost everybody.

Meanwhile, startup weeks have happened, are happening, or are otherwise scheduled to happen all over the country (see some links below). It’s a powerful reminder to all entrepreneurs that you are not alone in your journey. To be a successful founder, you need to have a network of mentors, so find ways to reach out to and embrace your local founder community, whether it be at a startup week gathering or otherwise.

One awesome example of this in action is Josh Fedie at SalesReach, a Minneapolis-based startup that has developed a system to help sales teams deliver marketing-approved content to sales prospects at the right time (what he calls “Smarketing”). In addition to putting in hours to run his business, Josh has committed significant hours building a strong following for his podcast, The Founders Mentality, which consists of casual, conversational interviews with a plethora of successful founders. He has become one of my favorite LinkedIn profiles to follow because, as a startup attorney who works with founders nearly every day, I find that the interviews offer invaluable insight into all sorts of hot topics for founders and help me better understand the founder “mentality” so that I can better serve my clients.

Friday, October 4, 2019

From Linebacker to Food Entrepreneur: Blake’s Seed Based

Regular readers of entreVIEW may be familiar with my enthusiasm for Wisconsin sports. As an alumna of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it is particularly exciting to see other alumni experiencing professional success — especially when it links sports, entrepreneurship, and my (required) dietary restrictions.

I, along with an estimated 3 million other U.S. adults, am allergic to tree nuts. This can make for awkward social situations (eating alone at weddings because it takes so long to get a nut-free meal) and challenging grocery store selections (if it says it was “processed at a facility that also processes tree nuts,” it’s probably fine, but on the off-chance it’s not, I’m stuck with an entire box of granola bars). So, when I heard the story of a former Wisconsin Badgers football player who had developed a line of allergy-free seed based snack and protein bars, I was intrigued.

Blake Sorensen, a Minnesota native and budding food entrepreneur, was recently featured in a forbes.com article. Between 2007 and 2010, Sorensen was a linebacker for the Wisconsin Badgers. Like me, he has a tree nut allergy. While getting his MBA at Indiana University, Sorensen took a social entrepreneurship class from which a business idea was born: Blake’s Seed Based, a line of snack bars featuring a combination of seeds and fruit free from the major allergens of nuts, dairy, and gluten.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Deepfakes, Privacy, and Deception

by Amanda McAllister and Navin Ramalingam

A “deepfake” is an ultrarealistic fake video made with artificial intelligence software. The term is a portmanteau of the concept of machine “deep learning” and the word “fake.” Essentially, it is the end-product of a computer program “learning” the map of the target subject’s face, finding common ground between two faces, and stitching one face over the other in a video editing process. 

Manipulating video is not necessarily a recent invention. Hollywood has been doing it many years, such as when film effects were used to make Joseph Gordon-Levitt look like a young Bruce Willis in the film Looper, or the digital recreation of a young Carrie Fisher on actress Ingvild Deila for the Princess Leia cameo in Rogue One. Face-morphing features are also an essential part of multimedia messaging applications like Snapchat.

While the technology may not be inherently illegal or unethical, some manifestations of deepfakes do have the potential to be illegal, to create liability, to spread misinformation, or to violate the privacy of subjects of deepfakes.

For instance, people have been using facial recognition apps and deepfake technology to superimpose faces of well-known celebrities and ordinary people over that of actors in pornographic films or over nude photos to create nonconsensual pornography. The past year has seen several deepfake consumer apps being released permitting its users to create their own deepfakes, including one disturbing app that provided its users the opportunity to create nonconsensual pornography by “undress[ing] photos of women” and making them look “realistically nude.” Fortunately, this app has since been taken down.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Trade Secrets 101 for Startups

Whether your startup is high-tech, low-tech, a manufacturing company, or anything else, trade secret protections can help startups to grow, especially when other intellectual property options are not available. Startups may employ trade secrets in protecting their methods, for example, by shielding their internal operations and processes from public view and restricting access.

What is a trade secret? 

A “trade secret” broadly covers all forms of information for which the owner has taken reasonable measures to keep secret and that has independent economic value as a result of not being generally known. This could include confidential formulas, customer lists, manufacturing techniques, source code, algorithms, or any other type of financial, scientific, technical, engineering, or vital information that the startup takes affirmative steps to keep secret.

In other words, to own a trade secret, a startup must deliberately and affirmatively take measures to protect a trade secret and that trade secret must have economic value because it remains guarded and away from the public domain.

Why use trade secrets?

In their recent article, “Why Do Startups Use Trade Secrets?” David S. Levine and Ted Sichelman note three reasons why startups use trade secrets: 

  1.  “to maintain lead-time advantage and prevent competition”;
  2. when “patent protection is unavailable”; and
  3. when “patent protection is too costly, weak, or difficult to enforce.”

In the first example, Levine and Sichelman use Google as an example of an early pioneer in online search engines. Google was able to start and maintain dominance in the field by “keeping key details of its search algorithms a trade secret.” This works for companies using novel technology that is not easily reverse engineered. If reverse engineering is a concern, patents or even copyrights (in the context of software) are likely to provide more robust protection than trade secrets.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

So You Want to Bring Your Business to the Fair? An Insider’s Perspective on Vendor Life at The Great Minnesota Get-Together®

It’s the day after Labor Day, and we’ve just wrapped up our second year of business at the Minnesota State Fair in what seems likely to be a record-breaking year for attendance. Our St. Croix Saddlery booth had a successful run with a decent increase in sales over last year, attributable to the combination of more educated buying, an improved setup, a strong sales team, and fantastic weather. We learned a lot in our first year that made this year easier, but the Fair is still a big deal with its own challenges. I know many other entrepreneurs dream of joining the Fair as a vendor, and I thought I would share just a handful of truths that I’ve learned in my experience.

  • It’s not a bonanza. We’ve all heard tales of the business owners who work two weeks at the Fair and get to retire the other 50 weeks of the year. Perhaps this is true for some of the most popular food vendors, but it’s certainly not the case for me or most other vendors. Our sales over 15 days at the Fair are roughly equivalent to one average month’s sales in our store, but there are a lot of expenses that go with that (see the next paragraph).
  • It’s expensive. In addition to paying a relatively high booth fee (it varies depending on your vendor category, location, and sometimes your total front footage), you also pay a significant assessment for utilities that is split among all vendors. On top of that, you have your own booth costs (for us, tents, lighting, and fixtures), huge inventory costs, admission for all of your employees (the Fair requires this, and the vendor ticket discount is the same as the early-bird discount at Cub Foods), parking if necessary, and of course wages for all the extra staff you bring aboard.