Fon is “share a little WiFi at home and roam the world for free”. This proposition has intrigued over half a million people around the world with over 1000 signing up every day. My friend Yossi Vardi introduced me to a new company that he invested in called WeFi who wants to achieve a similar objective to Fon but with a different method. The idea of WeFi is that some people go wardriving looking for open wifi routers and report them in a map. Then other users validate that this or that router is indeed open by connecting to it. At Fon we had a similar idea but we discarded it because we were concerned about not knowing whether somebody had left a WiFi router open willingly or not. Nor could we certify the quality of that router and we were concerned about the breach of security of people surfing inside other people´s networks. But WeFi went ahead with a beautifully designed web site and provided that these issues do not turn out to be a real problem Fon is in favor of collaborating with WeFi as we are with Meraki, Whisher and any other efforts that lead to more WiFi coverage.
I don´t know if Fortune just has a natural bias towards technology or if technology is just so powerful in the business world but out of the 25 most powerful business people according to Fortune most are in Technology.
If you have a liberated iPhone you can now go to Installer, Network and install iFon. iFon is an app that autoconnects you to Fon so if you are moving around areas that are heavily populated with Fonspots your iPhone begins to treat WiFi as if it were Mobile disconnecting and autoconnecting from Fonspot to Fonspot. While the process of connecting and disconnecting is worse than that of mobile networks the throughput that you get is much greater and is free.
The second largest wireless operator in the US has recently announced it will allow the use of any device and application on its network. The American wireless market is probably one of the few in the world in which customers are not allowed to use any device with the wireless operator they have chosen. Up until now operators have tightly controlled devices and applications users were able to use on their networks: consumers wishing to adopt Verizon as their wireless carrier have to go to a Verizon store and choose from one of the phones offered by the carrier.
Starting from next year Verizon will let consumers buy and use any kind of device and application on its network as long as it will meet the carrier’s “minimum technical standards” (and work on CDMA networks). Users will be able to pay according to the bandwidth used, without restrictions on the kind of applications they can run on their mobile devices (good news also for mobile developers).
Verizon will keep selling phones at subsidized prices in its stores, bundled with network connectivity and other services, but this won’t be anymore the only option available to consumers.
This is also good news for mobile phone manufacturers like Nokia: they will be able to sell directly to US customers without signing exclusive deals with the carrier. It’s also good for FON: devices won’t be restricted as to the connectivity options available and WiFi phones will probably become popular also in the US.
The rationale behind such an important move from one of the largest carriers in the States is quite clear: the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auctions will force carriers to open their (new) networks to any device, according to the “open access” rules Google has effectively pushed for. Making their existing network more open now could give Verizon an advantage over its competitors.
This move also comes really close to Google’s recent Android open platform announcement: openness is probably becoming a buzzword, but is also the best way to ensure customers get the kind of innovative devices and applications they are increasingly demanding, a chance for Verizon to satisfy more sophisticated users eager to use mobile data applications on compelling devices competing with Apple’s iPhone.
Last Friday I organized a dinner in La Judería resturant in Sevilla and a lot of people from the Spanish Web and Blog community were present: Wicho from Microsiervos, Enrique Dans, Ismael El-Qudsi from Microsoft, Anil de Mello from Mobuzz, Ricardo Galli from Meneame, Julio Alonso from Weblogs SL, Eduardo Arcos, Arturo Paniagua, Manu Contreras, Carlos Martinez, Alexandra Guerrero, Carlos Mantero, Paloma Abad and Jaime Fernández from Hipertextual, Fernando Serer and Alejandro Carravedo from Blogestudio , and Jonan from Pixel y Dixel.
During the dinner I realized that most of the Spanish Internet was at the same table, that together we had something like 30 million uniques per day if you added all those sites and Fon. It was then I started thinking at how to turn to good use this great communication potential. While having a drink after dinner I talked with groups of bloggers asking them what we could do together. Ricardo Galli had a great idea for which he suggested the name “Si a Internet”, “Yes to the Internet”.
This initiative begins from noticing something which is probably already clear to most of the people who work or live on the Web: traditional media see the Internet as a threat to their business and power and frequently publish articles or TV programs and print talking that portrays the Internet as the wrong lifestyle choice. One day is about pedophiles, another one about terrorists on the internet, or whatever may make the average person feel uncomfortable with a new media that is undermining their cozy livelihood.
“Si a Internet” would be our answer: a button on the websites represented at the table and everyone else who likes this idea that will link to a website explaining how Internet is becoming the real source for critical thinking and not a safe haven for terrorists, drug addicts and pedophiles, as the Spanish press likes to argue ( same happens in many other countries).
I think it´s time that all key web sites adopt a common ethics code and endorse a common platform that would make the average citizen feel comfortable with the internet as its major source of news, communication and entertainment. This would of course require more self policing on the side of those who work on the internet including a fight against spamming and other sources of discomfort on the net.
In any case this is still only at the idea stage.
I am a liberal father. I consider 15 a reasonable age for kids to have sexual relations for the first time. I believe in self discipline and rarely chase my children around the house for them to study (my 3 older kids do extremely well at school). I believe that drugs should be legalized and offered in exchange for medical treatment. I support gay marriage and I could go on with more examples of how “liberal” I am. Now having said all this yesterday what I thought would never happened to me happened to me and that is that I was horrified, and I mean horrified, by this South Park Episode called the Snuke. Watching it I became for the first time….a conservative.
While the treatment of the internet in that episode is very funny, the whole part of Hillary Clinton carrying a nuclear device in her vagina and how this device is extracted from her vagiana was of unbelievable bad taste to me. So much, that it made me wish that some things were simply….illegal to show. South Park makes me want to do something I never thought I would do, and that is to want to talk about dignity. Well, at least I was able to tell my 13 and 15 year olds what I thought about it. They were surprised that I had finally found….the limits to my liberalism.
I have built many internet businesses and in all of these ventures the challenge is always the same: hiring the right people. And of course I am not alone in this. I know that my friends who are also active internet entrepreneurs, people like Niklas Zennström, Tariq Krim, Marc Samwer, David Sifry, Anil De Mello, Sergey Brin, Janus Friis, Loic Le Meur, Brent Hoberman, Lars Hinrichs, and others see hiring well trained smart employees as probably the most important element of their business strategy.
Unfortunately, the best schools in the world have not adapted to the digital world and are not able to educate students for the digital future. Presently there’s a serious mismatch between what digital employers want and what universities train people for. It is for this reason that I am thinking about starting the Digital Academy of Madrid. At this moment this is just an idea which came out of a conversation with Alejandro Piscitelli who runs Educ.ar who had it and it is in the early exploration stage. This idea also comes from my 11 year teaching experience as part time professor at Instituto de Empresa.
Asus managed to pack a complete PC in a super small form factor, a device weighting just 900 grams. It’s on sale in Taiwan for about 250 euros in its full featured version, with a 7″ screen, 4 GB flash drive, 512 MB ram, SD card slot, a great webcam, three USB ports and running a customized Linux OS booting up in less then 20 seconds. Soon it’s going to come in a Windows version and some people were also able to install Mac Os X on it.
The system runs Firefox, Skype, OpenOffice and some great multimedia apps like Amarok and other media players for videos and photos. It’s a device built for Internet surfing and Firefox runs great on it, as do all the most popular web applications. The screen is very small but still usable and you can attach an external monitor and mouse to use it more comfortably.
People are going crazy for this device all around the world and it’s already at the top of the wish list on Amazon and CNET. In two weeks since its launch in the US, Asus has already run out of stock, same thing in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Germany. They plan to sell 3 to 5 millions in 2008. The most interesting thing about this little PC is its incredible price which combined with its small weight and ease of use makes it a great device for kids and students and a perfect gift for Christmas (everybody here at FON seem to want one). FON is in talks with ASUS to make accessing FONspots with an Eee PC really quick and easy.
The Nokia N810 is the successor to the geek’s favorite N800 Internet Tablet. It’s a thin and light mobile device with a huge touchscreen and a sliding keyboard. It’s built to fit nicely in your pocket and has almost all you’d ask to such a device: WiFi, webcam, integrated GPS, 2GB internal storage and a SD slot. It’s a great device, no doubts about it, although its sale price makes it a lot less interesting and groundbreaking when compared to the Eee PC. It runs the new Internet Tablet OS 2008 Linux distribution, based on Maemo, and runs a great Mozilla browser with Flash and Ajax, a mapping application, a media player and will ship with Skype and other Internet telephony applications preinstalled.
It’s an open source platform and there’s a community already at work developing great applications for it. Anyway I think there’s still some work to do for Nokia: installing applications on these devices is something a geek could do quite easily, but not the same can be said for common people. Applications take some time to launch and don’t run smoothly as on the iPhone: it’s a computer-like experience which we are familiar with, but I don’t think this is how a mobile device should work. Nokia also keeps leaving these devices without 3G connectivity, nonetheless they are competing with Apple and RIM for the same limited space in my pockets. My iPhone and BlackBerry keep me always connected, Nokia instead asks me to bring two 500 euros devices with me to get Internet everywhere I go (the N810 and N95).
23andMe, the company founded by Anne Wojcicki and Linda Avey and in which I’m an investor, is going to give a Launch Party next monday in Palo Alto, California. 23andMe will help individuals understand their own genetic information using recent advances in DNA analysis technologies and web-based interactive tools.
After providing a saliva sample, 23andMe users will be able to enjoy interactive tools to shed new light on themselves, their close family and their distant ancestors. Having created myself and invested in so many internet companies in which interaction is done by your hands, eyes and ears the I find the concept of a company who you first encounter donating saliva, both weird and fascinating. Who would have thought that all there is to know about your genes can be simply found….in your saliva. Sperm could be a more interesting as a way to enter a community but I guess saliva is more egalitarian. Now thinking about this maybe the next mashup is between 23andme and Match.com…find out before more about your mate….before you mate.
I generally don´t comment about my investments in companies that work in Spanish in my English blog because many of my readers cannot truly understand their products. But I wanted to announce that today I invested in Hipertextual, a family of blogs started and managed by 28 year old entrepreneur Eduardo Arcos, a fantastic blogger who I got to know and frequently read over the last two years. Hipertextual´s best known blog is Alt1040 but as you go into Alt1040 and scroll down you will see that there´s a whole family of blogs that are owned by Hipertextual covering not only technology but also sports, politics, gossip, movies, music, cars, life in Mexico, and other topics of interest. Last month Hipertextual had over 4 million unique visitors and was growing nicely. Hipertextual fits my investment criteria which is very simple, invest in products I use made by people who I like. Hardly objective but my 10 million euros invested in risky, early stage start ups over the last 2 years are worth over 30 million now with some interesting exits coming up in the next 3 months. Another company that I am very happy to have invested in is Meneame, a Spanish Digg like site whose surprising characteristic is that it is all open source. But even though anyone can actually copy Meneame and some have the growth of Meneame itself seems to be unstoppable. Meneame also has around 4 million uniques per month. Now having said all this I still consider myself an entrepreneur with Fon being my main activity. But at this point in my life and with 3 significant exits and a passion for the web I like to invest with up and coming entrepreneurs whose products I love and help with their strategy. Eduardo Arcos clearly fits this profile. Tomorrow night I will be in Sevilla at Evento Blog and where Eduardo, Manu Contreras and the Hipertextual team and I will be available to meet other bloggers.