The Dark Web of New Venture Capital

Part 2 – Access Points and Attributes for Financing Sources That Are Hidden In Plain View

dark web - fishTwo weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being the featured speaker at the Houston Startup Grind, emceed by the fabulous Michele Price.

The topic – The Dark Web of Capital – came out of a brainstorming discussion Michele and I had about possible speaking themes for me that would be fresh or different for attendees.

It was a fun, interactive evening in Houston.

Afterwards, I posted a summary of some of the major categories for these sources of financing that I dubbed “hidden in plain view” in a Part 1 blog post on the Powershift Group website.

In this Part 2 post, I want to address the subject of access points to the dark web of capital. I also want to describe some of the attributes that make new ventures and their founders more accessible to these source of finance.

dark web - Time coverFirst, access points.

Unlike the requirement to download and run special software, like Tor, to gain access to the dark internet web, access to the dark web of capital is less clear cut. But, here are some starting points:

1 – Knowledge

Simple awareness of the sources, of course, is a first step towards accessing them. With better knowledge of the categories that we covered in Part 1, founders are better equipped to know where to look.

It’s a bit like Harry Potter, where simply knowledge that something like a port-key exists is the first step towards being aware to even look for them.

2 – Trusted Relationships

The cliché “it’s not what you know, it’s who” is especially relevant with dark web sources. Just accessing “weak ties” networks, like casual connections you have on LinkedIN, won’t cut it.

Since they are often less formal and may value their lack of public visibility, accessing dark web sources can require much “stronger ties” networks.

This means the presence of longer-term personal relationships that have been built directly with a participating investor or with a founder in whose companies they have invested.

3 – Get Outside

First-time founders can unintentionally insulate themselves from dark web capital sources by thinking they have access to all they need, through the staff and mentor networks of the incubator/accelerator program to which they gain admittance. It’s important that you be deliberate about going outside of your current network.

It’s kind of like getting into a habit of always going to the same neighborhood eating places. After a while, you’re not even seeing where others are eating. Doing that causes you to miss the long lines of hungry people coming out of unfamiliar locations. Instead, be intentional and watch where other are going; then follow them!

4 – Always Be Pitching

The best founders are like the best salespeople. They are always pitching, but are so good at it, you don’t even feel like you’re being pitched, even if you know you are.

This is Blink territory, wherein Malcolm Gladwell speaks about the minimum requirement of 10,000 hours of practice to achieve a basic level of mastery over an area.

1-Million-CupsPractice. Over-prepare. And, never miss an opportunity to pitch. Need a safe place to work on your skills? Try (or start!) the 1 Million Cups group in your community.

Now, on to attributes that lend themselves to greater success in accessing dark web capital.

Not long ago, Fred Wilson of Union Square blogged about three types of entrepreneurial ventures:

  • Lifestyle (which he also called “Cash flow” oriented ventures)
  • Indie (which he also called “Owner operated” ventures)
  • VC Fundable (self-evident)

Whereas traditional sources of new venture capital, from angels to institutions, favor VC fundable – hoping upon hope to discover the mythical “unicorn” (see: Uber) – dark web capital sources are far more comfortable and in some situations favor the lifestyle and indie ventures.

Venture builders like our firm Powershift Group, for example, often favor the owner-operated venture, where they can assign their principals to significant operational roles in the venture. What this means for the outside founder considering approaching them is that he or she needs to be very comfortable with the fit and chemistry with the venture builder’s team.

A documented pattern of good DIET and Exercise, which I discussed in a post about impact investing, is another collection of attributes that makes new ventures more qualified for dark web capital. Nothing novel here; just good, everyday habits for new ventures to live by.

On a final note, I suspect it’s clear by now that cataloging these sources of capital is an inexact science. In addition to the more obvious sources of dark web capital, there are many others. Examples include:

  • non-traditional syndicates (like Enable Impact),
  • contests & challenges (like Xprize), and
  • global entrepreneurship networks (like ANDE)

I’d love to hear from others on this topic and look forward to your questions and comments.

Periscope Behavioral Impressions

Or Look, We Can Use Our Phones to Do What Pornographers Figured Out on the Web 20 Years Ago”

I installed the Periscope app a couple of weeks ago and have been using it intermittently since then.

periscopeBasically, while the technology might be slightly more sophisticated, layering in a modicum of social networking, it’s the functional equivalent of a live, handheld web cam.

Here are a few initial observations, mostly behavioral:

1 – When you hold your phone in front of you, while you’re walking or talking, you can’t avoid conveying the impression that you are filming. You might as well hold out a film marker in front of you, snap it shut, and yell “action!” because it equally attracts the natural curiosity of people that are walking towards you.

Thus, unlike a go-pro or body cam, which can film more subtly, the act of holding your phone in front of you is explicit. So, it’s harder to catch people in their natural states.

2 – When live broadcasting, I felt compelled to narrate the action, like a program host. On longer segments, I found the need to re-announce the subject matter of the broadcast every five or ten minutes, like Terri Gross does on NPR’s “Fresh Air” just before she takes a station break.

3 – The days and times that I had the most organic Periscope viewers were weekend mornings and weekday afternoons.

4 – It seems more viewers tuned in for lifestyle ephemeral, rather than purposeful, business-y broadcasts. My most watched broadcast was while enjoying a beer on the rooftop deck of our office building with a great view of the Texas State capital during which I answered questions about Austin.

The second most watched was crossing a bridge over Lady Bird Lake in central Austin while viewing the flower planters, shortly after SXSW 2015.

5 – I tried a couple of experiments to attract scheduled viewers, from my Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but they were dismal failures (the experiments, not my friends/followers). My guess is that I didn’t offer a valuable enough incentive for people to schedule or remember to view the broadcast.

6 – I also tried to sneak in a live broadcast of former President Bill Clinton’s remarks from the Four Seasons when he was a guest dinner speaker for a China-US Private Investment Summit in Austin. My guess is that there were cell and wifi jammers in place that significantly slowed or prohibited broadcasting, because Periscope flat refused to work.

The app design itself is fairly simple and clean, which I expect to evolve via a rather constant series of tweaks as it gets more widely used. If I had one feature-function beef, it would be about archiving your broadcasts.

periscope-screengrabsAs best I can tell, when you save your broadcasts, it doesn’t keep a complete archive of all prior broadcasts available to you…just your most recent one or two.

They disappear from your stream in a day or two, after which all you have left to fall back on is the recording (if you choose to save them) of the video on your mobile device.

However, your mobile device recording is plain vanilla, i.e., it lacks the Periscope-enhanced information with the viewers’ handles, their questions, or the heart streams that they gave you while broadcasting, which is a bummer.

I suspect that may change in the future, hinting at the kind of functionality they will “turn on” for subscribing users, to monetize the freemium version.

A DIET for New Ventures

diet - hand holdingLast month, I had the pleasure of speaking on a SXSW panel about “Impact Investing.”

In preparation for that panel, I framed out some notes to use for my remarks. In advance, to help promote the panel, I also write a post entitled “DIET and Exercise” based on the notes.

However, I recently realized that I never elaborated on what my meaning was behind the words Demand, Idea, Excellence, and Team that make up the acronym DIET in the title. I discussed them during the Southby panel, but forgot to write it up for the blog.

So, here’s the meaning behind the words. Remember: the context is these words were meant to provide easy-to-remember guidance for social venture founders on the attributes that impact investors seek.

DEMAND

Working backwards – most known to least, you might say – the first question is understand if there is demand for the product or service? In lean startup methodology, this is “product/market fit” – have you built a product that anyone wants to use and/or will pay for?

My Austin colleague Josh Baer likes to say that proven “customer traction trumps all.” If you can show a meaningful number of customers using your product or service, then that makes a decision about investing in you the easiest of all.

IDEA

Continuing to work backwards, if the product or service is still in development, then the next best thing investors will want to know is details about the idea. In lean terms, this is “problem/solution fit” – do you have a problem worth solving and what can you can offer about your product or solution that makes it novel, compelling, and important?

Investors will want to understand your knowledge of the market, your competitors, why you think certain features of your solution produce valuable benefits. They will want to know how well you know your customers and any evidence you can provide that your idea has merit with them.

EXCELLENCE

Short of a minimally viable product or evidence that supports your idea, the next thing investors can look towards is excellence in what I call the small things: these are both tangible and intangible. On the tangible side, how much have you thought about the design values that matter to your idea? What should the experience be like for your users and why? Have you created rough sketches to show UIs, flows, ecosystem interactions, etc.?

On the intangible side, I find it instructive to observe how founding teams communicate, prepare, follow-up and other aspects of their personal style.

  • Do they arrive on-time or are they always late?
  • If late, do they let you know in advance?
  • Do they take notes in meetings?
  • How quickly do they follow-up with you on the notes?
  • What’s their eye contact and how do they show you that they are listening?
  • How do they interact with each other? etc., etc., etc.

Sports analyst and former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson used to get asked why he required his players to hold hands in the huddle. The reason, he said, was because he believed that the “little things” were good indications for how the “bigger things” would turn out.

In the case of his players’ huddles, having them hold hands – even if only each other’s pinky fingers – was a little way of reinforcing the big theme of “team over individuals” before each and every play. The same “little things” thinking goes for startup founders, in my book.

TEAM

Lastly, if the investor has nothing else to go on – no product, no research results, no track record of interaction with the founders – then they are left only with the team. Some would say (and I’m one of them) that, taking all other things into consideration, the most important element of a startup is the team.

There are two dimensions I’d offer for evaluating the team, especially the founders.

The first is a more experience-based evaluation that I’d call the “it” factor. As an investor, after you’ve met with hundreds of startup founders and prospective entrepreneurs, you begin to get a sense of what you’re looking for in the person across the table from you and if they have “it” – the “it” being the total sum of what it takes to go through the startup process and emerge with a product or service that has the potential to be truly meaningful (which usually means: profitable at scale).

diet - connerThe second dimension for evaluating team members comes from the work of a change expert named Daryl Conner and the research his firm ODR did a couple of decades ago. Conner and ODR observed hundreds of successful people and documented a set of attributes shared among them:

  • positive,
  • proactive,
  • focused,
  • flexible, and
  • organized

Taken together, Conner referred to the people who possessed these attributes as “resilient.” To the ODR list, I’ve personally added a sixth attribute of a moral code. Besides the main reason that working with people who have a moral code matters to me, it also helps me to remember the attributes together as a single exaggerated acronym: PPOOFF!

Which, in my mind, is mental noise that is made in your head if the team lacks the potential to stand up to these attributes. If they don’t, well then “ppooff” …there goes your chances of the venture being a success, as far as the investor is concerned.

So there you have it. That’s my meaning for the words composing the DIET acronym.

A SXSW Easter Blessing

DigbyAsh - 3For the past two years, we have hosted visitors to Austin during SXSW. Our kids are grown, so we have the extra room and thought it would be fun.

We take time to get to know our visitors when they first contact us, so that we can make sure that they will be a good fit.

This is mainly because we have a busy schedule and we keep multiple guests at a time, so it’s important that our visitors are self-sufficient and come from a tradition of caring for a host’s home like they would care for their own.

So, when Digby, who hails from Sydney Australia, contacted me with a note to say he and his girlfriend Ashleigh were interested in staying with us, we immediately checked him out online.

His reviews were stellar and he sounded like a pleasant fellow in email, so we said “sure” and set aside a room for him. Little did we know what would happen next.

Digby and Ashleigh arrived on a Tuesday night – him from Australia and her indirectly from Africa, where she had been touring, as part of a year-round, worldwide journey. After reuniting to spend the evening together for the first time in 3 months, they were ready to journey downtown to get their SXSW Music badges Wednesday afternoon.

DigbyAsh - 1Like most of our guests, they stayed in downtown ATX for the balance of the day, returning to our house later that night after we’d gone to bed.

The next day, Digby let us know that Ashleigh had taken ill the previous evening, so they were going to take it easy that morning to let her condition improve.

But it didn’t; it got worse. By that night, they called a health service referred to them by their traveler’s insurance program, which assigned them a physician and trafficked a paramedic to visit our house to see Ashleigh.

(NOTE to self: on the next big international trip, *definitely* invest in a traveler’s insurance policy to supplement regular health insurance!)

By Friday noon, things were still getting worse, so the doctor advised Ashleigh to be taken into the hospital. We did, where they quickly diagnosed her with a severe bacterial infection. In fairness to Ashleigh and respect for her privacy, I’ll leave out the details of her diagnosis and hospitalization. The great news is it appears she recovered fully.

And, that is the SXSW Easter Blessing we experienced. Because almost two weeks after we had originally expected to wave goodbye to them after the end of SXSW, we celebrated a lovely Easter Sunday brunch with Digby and Ashleigh at Manuel’s downtown.

During that two week period, we had the opportunity to get to know two young people who truly became our unofficial, adopted Australian children.

Through many mornings of kitchen table conversation, evening meals together, drives to and from the hospital to check on Ashleigh where she remained under care for nearly a week, and finally a short celebratory weekend when we had a little time to show them both a handful of Austin sights once Ashleigh had been discharged, we became deeply acquainted with two young people, who had grown up halfway around the world and somehow had landed at our door.

DigbyAsh - 4Caring, principled, good-humored, intelligent, curious, open, ethical…I could go on. As we might say in Texas, “their folks done brung ‘em up right!”

We treasure the time we had with Ashleigh and Digby; it was hard to say goodbye when the time finally came for them to continue their journey.

With Ashleigh receiving the “thumbs up” from both her doctors and the insurance company to continue their journeys, she and Digby charted the continuation of their travels across the US – New Orleans, New York, Chicago, the West coast and more!

After dropping them off at the bus stop, we returned to a home a little quieter and less active, but much enriched by memories we’ll have for a lifetime.

Yet, no doubt, ours was just one more, tiny vignette among the thousands that SXSW and our city’s other great events bring to town as a part of the festival economy that has become so vital to Austin. An Easter blessing indeed!

Good Impact Investing Requires DIET and Exercise

BSG logo - smallI moved to Austin in the mid-1990s as part of an expansion of BSG Corporation, a company for which I was a co-founder. In 1996, two things happened that shaped my engagement in community and social ventures for the next 20 years to present day.

First, BSG was acquired by another large services company for several hundred million dollars. Second, I was accepted into the 1996-97 class of Leadership Austin.

Up until then, my only community activity had been supporting my church and the schools my young children attended. Outside of those activities, all of my energy was poured into helping BSG grow and succeed. Consequently, while I traveled around the country to our offices in locations like New York, Atlanta, Chicago, and Seattle, I didn’t even know the names of the streets on the adjacent blocks around my new home in Austin.

So, when we sold BSG, I had a hunger to get to know my community better and was blessed with the means to take the time to do it. After some discernment, mightily enabled by my Leadership Austin experience, I thought that lending my services as a non-profit leader could be a worthwhile way to get engaged in a high impact way.

easter-seals - 75 yearsLong-story short, I interviewed for and won the CEO position (equivalent to Executive Director for many non-profits) at Easter Seals – Central Texas. This is the “Exercise” part of good impact investing, per this post’s title.

Being the CEO of a major regional non-profit (we had a $multi-million annual budget with a 22-county Hill Country territory) gave me the opportunity to see the social services sector from the inside, for which I’m grateful.

The experience was critical for learning the importance of exercising head and heart in different ways. It also enabled me to see how business practices I had learned and considered second nature were under-valued, under-represented, or completely absent in social services.

At the end of my one-year tenure as CEO, performing the real-life exercise as a hands-on social venture leader also helped shape the opinions that I carry today about the strengths and weaknesses of the sector.

Since so much of the non-profit sector competes for social venture dollars, I’ve learned to guide my criteria for judging an organization’s ability to succeed by criteria that are not unlike those of any other new venture I evaluate — non-profit or for-profit.

In fact, I don’t really think in terms of non-profit or for-profit. I think of high-margin, low-margin and no-margin ventures…to me, the financial side of evaluating a venture is all about growth and sustainability.

But, even before the financial sustainability question and its corresponding element, the business model, the four most important issues that I look for can be summed up with the acronym DIET, standing for : Demand, Idea, Excellence, and Team. (Yes, this is where the “DIET” part of the DIET and Exercise title comes from.)

Having been a both social venture leader and in the business of launching new ventures, as I have for years as a principal with Powershift Group, I’m looking forward to going deeper on the DIET and Exercise concepts, sharing my perspective as an impact investor, during our SXSW panel, Sunday, March 15. I hope you can join us and I look forward to your questions and comments!

wannabe_1024pxPS: If you have a moment, and are an educator, a student, or the parent of a high schooler, please take a look at one of Powershift Group’s most recent social venture projects: the Wannabe mobile app. You can download it (free) for all iOS devices, from the iTunes AppStore.

Three Icebreakers for SXSW Networking

sxsw icebreakersSo you are standing in a line at SXSW or waiting at the bar and someone you don’t know has just made eye contact with you.

That awkward moment strikes.

Your internal voice shrieks “you should say something.”

And then, the first thing that comes to mind is “sooo… amazing weather, huh?” leaving you filled with self-loathing for the world’s most unoriginal, impersonal icebreaker.

Later, by the way, to be followed by the second most unoriginal (but necessary) question: “what do you do, Steve?”

Here are three alternatives to checking the weather that I like:

  1. “where are you from?” quickly followed, if you discover you live in the same city, with “oh yeah? what part of town?”
  2. “what’s the gossip?” which half the time gets an immediate reply of “what do you mean?” to which you can define however you want, e.g., gossip about “the best party” “worst speaker” “most famous celebrity who snuck into town” etc.
  3. “how’s the network?” that (admittedly) is a geeky version of the weather icebreaker, but eminently more useful at SXSW, where you never know exactly how the wifi and 4g are going to respond

So, have fun out there at #SXSW2015 and don’t ask about the weather…because, ya know, in Austin it changes every 24 hours in the spring anyhow!

I’m a Little Dewey Redux: Honoring the Spirit of Dewey Winburne

[In late December 2014, a minor institution closed shop, the Austin Startup blog, produced and largely written over the years by my friend and colleague Bryan Menell. I deeply enjoyed being one of the many unpaid, volunteer contributors to Austin Startup, lending my tips and news through my Cleantech, mobileTech, and Freshtech Friday columns over the years.

dewey awardBut, of all of my posts spanning close to a decade, nothing comes close to the response I got from a column I wrote reflecting on the honor of being a Dewey Winburne award finalist.

While Bryan has kept the post available on his Austin Startup archive site, I wanted to re-post it here, so that it would be available to anyone that went looking to catch a further glimpse of what Dewey meant to the early, pre-boom days of modern tech Austin and SXSW. I hope you enjoy!]

Original post date: December 26, 2011

Chances are, you may have never heard of Dewey Winburne, especially if you are somewhat new to Austin. I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time to help change that possibility, in a small way.

Because, regardless of whether you never met Dewey Winburne before he died in 1999 or have never even heard the name before, Dewey is a symbol for Austin and its tumultuous, joyous, sometimes depressing, yet eternally optimistic tech start-up ecosystem and the collateral acts of goodwill that thrive alongside the entrepreneurial journey.

I won’t go into Dewey’s life, partly because I personally never met him during his years of greatest visibility as an ambassador for SXSW, and partly because I can’t imagine ever being able to do as good a job as the tribute website that has stood in his honor for years: http://www.patrickcurry.com/dewey/  But, it’s a life that merits a few moments of reflection, which I hope you will take to honor his memory, by following the link.

For several years, carrying forward a tradition of honoring Dewey’s memory, the SXSW Interactive organizers have circulated a call for nominations that goes something like this:

Greetings and happy early October from SXSW-land.

I am writing because you are a past honoree for the Dewey Winburne Community Service Awards, which have traditionally recognized Austin-area technology-related do-gooders…

As a past Dewey honoree, we would love to hear your ideas about your friends / peers / associates / followers / heros who are doing good work through new media in Austin, as well as in other communities around Texas, around the nation, and around the world.

What kinds of people are we looking for? This person might be a teacher who is using new media in some amazing way. Or, this person might be a software developer who has created an app that helps improve the living conditions of a particular area. Or, this person might be a community organizer who has a particularly innovative strategy with regards to technology.

There are numerous other kinds of people who would be a great candidate for the 2012 Dewey Awards. Indeed, just so long as this person works at a grassroots level to better society through the power of new media, then you are on the right track with your idea.

Yes, I receive this email because I’m a past Dewey Winburne Award finalist. In other words, I’m a little Dewey (see below). But, you don’t have to be a past finalist or award recipient to nominate candidates for the award. In fact, in the 2012 SXSW plans are efforts to make the Winburne Award one for a global audience.

Help make it so, by passing on the story of Dewey Winburne to others, by nominating a deserving candidate, and by attending the 2012 Awards ceremony. You don’t have to be a nominee to be a little Dewey yourself.

= = =

From the generosity and good record-keeping of the SXSW organizers, here is a full accounting of Dewey Winburne Community Service Award honorees (finalists and recipients) – the next time you see one of these women or men, take a moment to say “thanks” or – better yet – ask them what they are doing in the community!

Ileana Abounader, Brenda Adrian, Jim Allan, Shahed Amanullah, Stephen Amos, Meredith Beal, Tricia Berry, Anthony Bertucci, Bianca Bickford, Janet Blake, Silona Bonewald, Dennis Borel, Stacy Bouwman, Donny Branam, Lisa Byrd, Andres Carvallo, Gary Chapman, Jeanine Christensen, Sue Cole, Pierce Collins, Jayne Cravens, Julia Cuba,

Laura Donnelly, Thea Eaton, Dave Evans, Jennifer Evans, Joe Faulk, Teresa Ferguson, Tiffany Galligan, Juan Garcia, Rodney Gibbs, Lisa Goldman, Danny Gomez, Mona Gonzalez, Sheri Graner Ray, Steve Guengerich, Bobbie Guerra, Richard Halpin, Wendell Handy, Sheena Harden, Tim Harrell, Rondella Hawkins, Josie Hughes,

Kat Jones, Leroy Jones, Kathy Keller, Karen Kreps, Joyce Lauck, Jon Lebkowsky, Walter Lenoir, Herman Lessard, Adina Levin, Nick Lewis, Rich MacKinnon, Dario Martinez, Jan McSorley, Lisa McWilliams, Gordon Montgomery, Melanie Moore, Maria Morissey, Rachel Muir, David Neff, Joanna Nigrelli, Pat Pound, Roberta Przybylski,

Alicia Rascon, Armando Rayo, Connie Reece, Sam Robertson, Monica Roesch, Chip Rosenthal, Sharron Rush, Keith Rutledge, Dave Sanders, Carl Settles, Randi Shade, Trent Sharp, Dr. John Slatin, Leroy Smith, Harvey Smith, Ken Starks, Roger Steele, Sharon Strover, Dale Thompson, Angela-Ja Touza-Medina,

Allen Weeks, Adam Weinroth, Melvin White, Monica Williams, Stefan Wray, Richard Yu, and Kevin Zeppernick.

= = =

Comments in response, left on Austin Startup

Dave Evans says: Here’s to all the “Little Dewey’s” in Austin, and the “Little Dewey” in all of us. (Yes, that includes you since you are reading AustinStartup!).

What is it that I love about Austin? It’s exactly the sense of community that is evident in this (Steve’s) post: In the 10+ years that we have celebrated Dewey and his spirit via the award created in his honor literally hundreds of people have been shortlisted for this award. That in itself is an amazing testament to what drives Austin: It’s a rare combination of tech-savvy, of hip, of culture and of community mindedness. My wife and I jointly received the Dewey Award in 2001. To this date, it remains our greatest honor.

Working with Dewey was amazing: the accomplishments in and around his vision are now part of Austin’s core fabric. In 1995 we helped organize SXSW Interactive: that was my intro to working with Dewey. His work at AIL with students like Patrick and Louie produced amazing outcomes. Memorable events include the Global Schoolhouse website, shown by none other than Bill Gates while presenting at the Whitehouse in 1996 (Patrick and Louie finished the site at 3am, barely ahead of the 9am talk. I had to call Patrick’s mom and explain why he was working so late…she understood.) We had Austin declared–by City Charter–as friendly to “multimedia” and the small tech companies who would ultimately build Austin’s vibrant tech base, cited in the past month by Governor Jerry Brown as drawing talent away from California. The list goes on.

And so it is, that each and every day, as we go about our work in Austin continuously building and rebuilding and inventing and reinventing our own futures that, in our way, we show the “Little Dewey” inside us.

Jon Lebkowsky says: Steve, thanks for this post. I remember well when I first met Dewey. I was cofounder of an Austin startup called FringeWare, Inc. that was less tied to the local geography and more of a cyberspace phenomenon. We were rooted in the emerging technoculture of the early 90s. When we heard that SXSW was splitting multimedia from film, creating the SXSW Multimedia Conference, our art director Monte McCarter and I showed up to cover it for our FringeWare News Network. I recall that first conference was mostly focused on CD-ROM technology; they had nothing about the Internet, so we were strongly encouraging Dewey and Hugh Forrest to add Internet programming (I think it took a couple of years for this to happen). My day job at the time was working with state poverty programs, and in my first conversation with Dewey I got that he was more concerned with the social significance of technology than with the tech itself, or tech as a business. He wanted to use multimedia to make the world a better place, to give people better lives. In our enthusiastic conversations over the following years, this was a recurring theme. You see this community service focus of Dewey’s represented in the annual award. In a world where the reality and culture of technology is so much about business and marketing, Dewey’s vision is more compelling than ever. We have to remember that the marketplace is nothing without the human element, the people on either side of any transaction, and we have acknowledge and care for people who have less of the advantages that most of us have enjoyed. That’s what “the Dewey” is all about, and that’s what Dewey himself was all about.

Adam Weinroth says: Steve thanks for posting – While I never met Dewey, I’m glad his memory has become a touchstone for what makes Austin’s tech community so vibrant and familial. The list you posted represents part of a unique “social network” that exists in Austin, and for me, includes friends, colleagues and heroes like you, Jon L, Dave E and so many others.

Randi Shade says: Thanks to SteveG for a wonderful post and best wishes to him as he heads to China. When I think about Dewey’s work and vision for Austin as a community-oriented high tech hub, and then read the response to SteveG’s post from Dave, I am struck by how many “Little Dewey’s ” there have been over the years and what an amazing impact it has had on Austin, and in turn the world. Thanks to each of them, and here’s to keeping Dewey’s memory alive by inspiring a whole new crew of “Little Dewey’s” in the coming years.

C. Enrique Ortiz says: Thank you Steve for sharing this…

From a Facebook comment by Carl Shepherd, co-founder of Homeaway: “Dewey was, quite simply, a man before his time. Had he lived only a couple of more years, his influence on the Austin tech scene would be known to all, and not just to those of us lucky enough to have known him.” More on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002028344605

Jayne Cravens says: Co-winning the Dewey with the wonderful Teresa Sansone-Ferguson was amazing – Austin was my adopted home, and SXSW is a homecoming for me when I can get there. I never knew Dewey Winburne, but I benefited from his legacy, both through SXSW, which has brought me SO much in terms of ideas and contacts and very good times, and from initiatives focused on making tech available to everyone that he supported and that I’ve come into contact with during my time in Austin. I look over that list of “Little Deweys” and think, “I know her! I know him! Oh, I know her too!” That’s just how Austin is – I haven’t found a community like it anywhere else when it comes to using Tech for Good, and for everybody knowing everybody. I don’t live in Austin anymore – but you would think I did looking at where my LinkedIn and Facebook contacts are from!

I wish there was an online community for Dewey winners… what a brain trust that would be…

Gordon Montgomery (@xovation) says: Steve, this is a brilliant post thanks. One of my requests on receipt of my award was that we all connect and work together as a group of alumni to bring ALL of our talents to bear in a real way in Austin. The timing could not be more perfect! I am working with a small group to make Austin a City of Transformation, empowering and enabling all communities such that when people arrival here they can see, feel, hear, touch and just sense how our little city is extraordinary. Your list alone gives me access to energizing that possibility. Thank you. You are the uber-Dewey. Happy New Year. GM.

Joel Greenberg says: I’m one of Dewey’s many, many friends. Here’s a little about our times together.

I first heard of Dewey in the same place I first heard about Human Code: as an award winner at the Intermedia Conference in San Jose, CA sometime around 1993. He was being honored for his addiction laserdisc that he produced while at AIL. Something clicked that year; what we now know as “transmedia” was just beginning to rip into our culture. Dewey’s addiction laserdisc showed that technology could be used for more than corporate training; Human Code’s Mars Lander showed what could be done with 3D. While laserdisc was on its way out, Quicktime 1.0 was on its way in and there were arguments about CD vs. broadband.

When I moved to Austin a year or so later, Dewey and I became friends. I’d be programming in my home office on Duval Street; he’d pick me up and we’d drive his van to some interactive event, talking about all the cool uses of this new media technology and how it wasn’t all about databases. He was excited about the potential of the technology to bring people together, an excitement fueled by his religious experiences of community. Dewey was always friendly, would talk to anyone, and seemed to know everyone in Central Texas. I got some of those stories on tape over lunch at his favorite restaurant, Les Amis.

On Fridays, he’d met with Dr. Kozmetsky, who wanted to be kept abreast of the new technology. Dr. K gave Dewey an office at what was then known as MCC on the Southwest corner of Braker and Mopac. He graciously offered me office space with another fellow traveler, Henry.

Dr. K also gave Dewey the keys to the projector room behind the big auditorium on the first floor. Dewey invited me to go with him and when we opened the door, it was like walking into a time warp. It turned out to be a well appointed on-line editing suite, with 1 inch editing machines and Bernoulli Boxes, huge removable drives that floated on a cushion of air. But technology was changing fast and the equipment was already outdated. It looked like a spaceship that had been abruptly abandoned five years earlier; there was even a sucking sound when we opened the doors for the first time. We had fun acting like technology archeologists, bouncing from machine to machine, trying to figure out if we could use this stuff for some kind of multi-media lab.

A few years later, Dewey got absorbed into his online learning project for the Texas Workforce Commission and I got absorbed into Human Code. By the end, we were both working so many crazy hours, I didn’t see much of him, except times he’d drop by work as Human Code took on his project, or maybe at a user group meeting. The darkness of a glowing computer screen absorbed too much time.

Truth be told, there shouldn’t be a Dewey Winburne Memorial. There should be Dewey. But, he was a human being and as we all are, he was complex. He left behind a wife and child he loved and a community of friends. I suspect many of them have a reaction similar to the one my wife and I have when we talk of him: “!@?!!!&^# Dewey!” His death brought together his community and therefore, was visible because his community was large. I wonder how many other lives have been adversely affected by the business, but in less visible ways?

My wife and I remember all the nice, fun stuff Dewey would do for other people and for us. “Here take this,” he’d say as he’d hand me or someone else some old piece of equipment others were throwing away. Or, “Here are the keys,” to whatever he had. Or, “I can get you in to the SXSW party, take this badge.” Or, “So and so, meet such and such.”

Now, my son’s attending the middle school where Dewey’s wife Dorothy teaches. So despite him being gone, Dewey still seems to be hanging around. I’d love to show him the gadgets I’m putting together, like solar powered holiday lights run by an Arduino, or talk to him about the world our kids our growing up in, drenched in “new” media. I half expect a Tweet from him from the other side.

David J. says: Steve, What a great post. I applaud you for taking time during this mad mad season to post about Dewey and what he meant for SXSW, The Interactive scene in Austin, and Austin in general. I am honored to be a nominee.

Sharron Rush says: I never got to know Dewey, darn it! I learned about him in 2002 when I received the award and I have always regretted that I missed him. The stories of his life and work are so inspiring, although sometimes when I wax on about “the spirit of Dewey” those who knew him remind me “Dewey was not a saint, you know.”

But he was an extraordinary leader by example and Dewey seems to have had a clear vision to put tech to use in ways that change people’s lives for the better. It is a vision that seems too often lost in gadgetry and commerce. I will always think of Dewey as a person who put real dedication and energy into the practice of tech as a means to include and engage people who had previously been marginalized. Receiving the Dewey award made a huge difference in our work at Knowbility. It helped us to integrate the idea of accessible technology into the conversations at SXSW Interactive and through that to the greater design community. I will always be grateful to Dewey, to Hugh Forrest, and to all the little Deweys for creating such an inclusive community of practice and for keeping that vision clear and strong.

Kat Jones says: Steve, Thanks for pulling us all together, into conversation and community, about ideas and efforts that matter. There are just so many different ways “the story” can unfold, and each day we can each take a step towards making it an awesome experience! Just like you did by writing this post and inviting the community to the conversation. Clearly, Dewey’s spirit is very much alive. Happy New Year!
Kat

A note from Steve Amos of 4empowerment.com: “Hi SteveG, Happy 2012! Sorry for the delayed response…I did not know Dewey except very briefly but… It is amazing how he inspired so many and a tragedy he was not able to see his vision come to life, impacting so many folks in Austin and around the world.”

Rachel Muir says: Steve, thank you for your kind and beautiful tribute to Dewey! What a gift to share in celebrating this wonderful life that inspired so much in our community. I’m proud to be a native Austinite and honored to be linked to the amazing legacy and vision Dewey had. I remember being presented with the award by Dave and Jennifer Evans and thinking then, and now about the amazing lives Dewey touched and continues to impact. Here’s to all the little Deweys out there and from Girlstart an especially warm thanks to everyone for helping inspire young girls to dream big in technology!

Dennis Borel says: Dewey and I were co-workers at AIL in the 90s, where he was initially teaching dropouts in the GED class. He was always coming up with ways for the youth to do hands-on learning and started blending in technology projects. We put together a proposal to the State to do an early multimedia laserdisc on addition targeting at-risk youth. Kids in the program contributed to the scripts, had acting roles, helped shoot the scenes; generally gave the end product amazing authenticity, winning New Media magazine’s national Best Multimedia Product of 1994 Award. The multimedia lab that was created to do the project became a regular part of the educational program. Of course, because Dewey was first and foremost a teacher. Proud to be a little Dewey.

Patrick says: Thank you for the wonderful article, Steve. Dewey was so important to so many of us. I’ve been lucky enough to live out so many dreams that were seeded in that dingy warehouse on 4th street, not to mention the friendships that have lasted all these years, all because of his overflowing generosity and support. He continues to inspire — I just wish he was still here to see everything that he’s created.


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