Author Archive

5 Awesome Email Features from Google

Email is both my best friend, and often, my worst enemy. It’s my primary means of communicating with my team, customers, prospects, and partners. It’s also my nemesis when I’ve got a ton of things I’m furiously working my way through on any given day.

I have to praise Google for their efforts in making email better; Little things like prompting me when I’ve said I’ve attached a file, but have actually forgotten to attach it (I swear, they added this feature just for me), or, praising me for reading all the important messages in my inbox (yes, I do say “Woohoo!” when that happens).

Gmail also has a cool area in Mail Settings called Labs – Mail Labs is a testing ground for experimental features that aren’t quite ready yet for primetime (it’s important to know that if you do Enable a particular feature from Labs, they might change, break, or completely disappear at any time.) If you haven’t checked Mail Labs out yet, I highly suggest it – you can find simple features that help manage email easier, or make the Gmail experience better.

5 features I’ve enabled and tested, and why I think they’re awesome:

Now, none of these are exactly “New” features, but, unless you enable them you may not have known they even existed. Below I’ve highlighted 5 features from the Labs that I think are awesome, along with details and links to more info on how to enable and use them.

1. Background Send:

I have to thank Twitter (more specifically, @henningh)  for referring me to this feature when I complained about hating to wait while an email with attachments is sending. This feature allows you to move on to more important things (like sending or moving on to another email) while your email is being sent – like its name, it sends your email in the background.

2. Canned Responses

I had to try this feature out after reading its description: “Email for the truly lazy”. I think it’s also “Email for the truly busy” as well. With the Canned Responses feature, you can create and save messages using a button in the compose form. So, if there are certain responses / messaging that you use frequently in email, instead of typing it all out each time, you can use one of your saved responses. Unlike an Auto-reply, you decide when to use it, and which response to use as appropriate.

3. Google Docs Gadget

I love having things in a unified view – the less clicking around and opening things, the better. The Google Docs gadget adds a box in the left column of your Gmail that displays your Google Docs – Not only can you see recent docs, starred docs, and search for docs in this gadget, you can even create new docs… without leaving Gmail.

4. Google Calendar Gadget

Like the Google Docs Gadget, this feature adds a box to your left column that displays your Google Calendar. You can view any of your Google Calendars and  see their past and upcoming events as well as quickly create new events right from your Gmail. Being able to see my schedule without leaving the page, while I’m drafting an email proposing meeting times is extremely handy.

(You can go here for more info on the Docs and Calendar sidebar gadgets)

5. Inserting Images

One thing about Gmail that used to irk me was not being able to insert an image directly into the message body. Sometimes, I need a recipient to see an image right in the body of an email, and not just as an attachment. This feature lets you do just that. When enabled, you get an image insert icon in your compose options (between Insert Emoticon and Link) that let’s you insert an image right into the message body. Once the image is inserted, you can resize or remove it as needed.

Nothing for Email Attachments?

Surprisingly (or maybe not) Google has yet to do anything to help manage email attachments. I’ve spoken to Googlers who have suggested various ways of building filters, but really, all they do is group my emails that have attachments together. I can’t see what the attachments are, without opening each message individually, and quite frankly, who wants to search through email attachments to find anything?

Above I listed out some really great features that Google is working on. Here’s one that we’re working on.

SmartCloud

SmartCloud automatically tags and saves your important email attachments into your cloud services without you having to do anything. Attachments come into and go out from your email, and SmartCloud tags and saves them into your Box, DropBox, Google Docs, etc… Sounds great right? If you want to know more you can check out our site: getsmartcloud.com

So there you have it – 5 awesome email features from Google, and 1 really awesome one from Openera. I hope these are as helpful to you as they have been to me.

What are your favourite Gmail features, and what do you hope they come up with next?

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TechCrunch Disrupt – Insights and Advice

TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2011(http://disrupt.techcrunch.com) punctuated Michael Arrington’s career heading up TechCrunch. The final Disrupt for Arrington was held in San Francisco attracting over 2,500 leading technology innovators and investors and over 150 new startups. Despite the controversy and media maelstrom over shadowing the event, there was something else going on. Start-up entrepreneurs were unveiling new technologies and businesses.

Openera SmartCloud

Richard & Peter

Openera’s Founder & CEO, Peter Lalonde was there, showcasing SmartCloud in Disrupt’s Startup Alley, a startup launch platform, where over 200 companies exhibited their product or service.

Here are just a few of his perspectives and thoughts on Disrupt, the Startup Alley experience, and advice he’d give to other startups thinking of attending the next Disrupt conference:

What was the highlight for you at Disrupt?

For me it was getting real and honest feedback on SmartCloud. The opportunity to have other founders, investors, press and potential partners get excited about the promise of SmartCloud was outstanding. I was really impressed by a few startups that rose above the noise of so many similar themed ones.

What type of feedback did you get from Investors/attendees?

It was mostly good feedback. A lot of people said things like

“I’ve been waiting for something like this!” “oh my God, you’ve solved my biggest frustration.” or some variation of “wow, this is actually really useful! You’ve solved a real problem.”

It wasn’t all good feedback though. Some people just didn’t see the value. They don’t mind keeping all their content in their inbox. There were also concerns around security, which we expected, but our answer didn’t always satisfy people in hyper sensitive businesses. We’ll write a blog post about our view and approach to security.

Of all the other startups you saw in Startup Alley, were there any that you got excited about, and why? 

Yes! Definitely. Bitcasa was the standout, most disruptive company there. The fact that they didn’t win offended me! LOL. Their CEO, Tony Gauda, is dynamic, brilliant and quick witted. Their approach of offering infinite local/cloud storage for $10/month is groundbreaking on a technical level, pricing level and user experience level. They are exactly in-line with the SmartCloud philosophy of not changing user behaviour.

The other stand-out startup that also adopts the SmartCloud philosophy is Everpix. They have an elegant solution for solving the fragmented photo library problem. Like many people, I have photos scattered all over the web; MobileMe, Flickr, Facebook, Picassa and across several local drives and email!  Everpix will consolidate and even auto-curate your photos (hide bad pics) and organize them into ‘moments’ allowing you to easily collect from, and share photo moments with friends.

GoInstant is a fellow Canadian Start-up that has, what seems to me, the easiest shared browsing / screen sharing solution possible. No plug-ins, no logins, no hassle, immediate group browsing. Ideal for groups that want to test web-based products (like SmartCloud) – it even works on mobile browsers.

Special mentions to Sonar (a social networking app that brings your LinkedIn contacts (and others) into a location aware context) and CodeGuard (time machine + version control for your website and a cool logo!) as well as sponsors, UrtheCast (launching HD cameras into space to provide (and make available) essentially a new hi-res image of the planet every month.Tesla because Tesla is awesome and Elon Musk is a visionary and inspiring. SugarSync, because they might make a good partner, and EventBrite, because they disrupted local & social event ticketing and has made life easier for many people.

Tell us a little bit about the experience of being in Startup Alley. 

You give the pitch so often, you sometimes forget that what you are saying may have quite an impact on someone. If I could have done anything differently, I would have spent more time reaching out to people ahead of time. There were very few members of the press interacting with the Startups in Startup ally. They were mostly distracted by Arringtongate! I would have thought that, at a minimum, TechCruch would have sent someone to talk to each startup.

What advice/recommendations would you give to other Startups who are considering attending the next Disrupt?

You might want to read my other post on Disrupt for more insight. If you are a B2B start-up expect a good percentage of the attendees to not care about what you are doing. This may change, but social, mobile and games seem to be the startups that get all the attention. If you decide to be a part of startup ally you may want to push to be exhibiting on day 1. Our experience was that Day 1 was far more busy for startup ally. Don’t wear a costume! Even if it does get you attention, press, leads is it worth it? Most importantly, talk to other startups. Find ones you like and promote the hell out of them. The good ones are often not the ones in the battlefield. Get to know their pitch, value proposition, send people you talk to their way too to check them out. Finally, it’s all about the follow-up. What are you going to do after Disrupt?

LOL! Openera @Startupfest in Montreal

Yes we are!

“Hey, do you want to go to Montreal for a couple of days and hang with a bunch of start-ups?”

That was my intro to the idea of the first International Startup Festival in Montreal. We weren’t really sure what to expect, but it definitely seemed like an event a bootstrapping startup should be at, if for no other reason than to connect with other startups and share ideas, pains, and opportunities.

Great Event.

Wow. What a fantastic event! StartupFest certainly didn’t disappoint.

Openera at Startup FestWe had the opportunity to hear from serial entrepreneurs who put us at ease that we’re not alone in this, and yes, startups are hard, but that doesn’t mean we should give up (even if it did seem like they were encouraging us to run away as fast as we can!) We gained incredible insight into the The Lean Startup Model, validating that we’re on the right path, and approaching things the right way. We had the fortuity of learning what VC’s and angels are looking for, and what to do, or not do, when seeking funding.

Here are some highlights of Startup Fest.

Here are our highlights from Startup Fest!

Adam Daw is a Hack! Officially.

Adam Daw - Hacker. Winner.

Openera kicked off our activities at StartupFest with our hacker-in-residence, Adam Daw (@adamdaw), competing at Context.io‘s hackathon at Notman House, and wouldn’t you know you know it – he took first place!

Adam Daw, you are a Hacker! What better way to kick things off for us – congratulations Adam! (enjoy the iPad!)

We knew right away…

…this conference was F*@%!ng Different!

There was certainly no shortage of amazing presentation from some incredible speakers. While Dave McClure ( http://500startups.com) (King of the F-bombs!) may have had entrepreneurs and founders curled up in the fetal position crying for mommy with his in-your-face keynote “Why *NOT* do a Startup” (I especially love the term “Wantrepreneur”), thankfully it wasn’t enough to make us run away screaming. Here are just a handful of presentations we attended that had a huge impact on us, as well as links to the decks on SlideShare where available:

“Startups are hard, but don’t give up”

Sarah Prevette‘s awesome napkin slide presentation “Your first Startup” and Tara Hunt‘s “Lies, Damned Lies, and Startups” (The cake is a lie!) – were sharp, witty, and authentic… Definitely the stuff a bootstrapping startup needed to hear to stay motivated.

“Lean, Mean, Startup Machines”

Ash Maurya‘s “10 Steps to Product/Market Fit“, Dan Martell‘s “Understanding the lean model“, and Ed Roman‘s “Lean Startup Cases” provided invaluable insight into the Lean Startup Model, and helped validate for us that we’re on the right track, and are doing the right things.

“To fund or Not to Fund” and “Exit → This Way”

Jeff Clavier‘s “Startup by numbers“, Stephan Ouaknine‘s “It’s all about shareholder value” gave us a lot to think about with respect to funding, VC’s, and Angels. Anand Agarawala took us along BumpTop’s journey from startup to being acquired by Google last year and gave some great advice in “The Art of the Hustle“, and Jeremy Edberg walked us through “A brief history of Reddit, the first YCombinator success“. Both were inspiring and insightful.

Art of the Elevator pitch

Openera at Schwartz's

StartupFest did a terrific job providing entrepreneurs with various opportunities to pitch their ideas to VC’s, Angels, and potential partners and/or customers. This included, pitching to Grandmothers (your pitch/product should be so easy to understand, even your Grandma “gets it”.), delivering your elevator pitch … in an elevator (literally), and, for a handful of startups, the opportunity to pitch on stage to a full audience.

We couldn’t resist: Openera Pitches SmartCloud in an elevator.

We weren’t planning on pitching at this stage in our development, but who could resist doing an elevator pitch, in an elevator, to a couple of VC’s sitting on couches? It was awesome! The feedback was exactly what we needed to hear. Hearing a VC say:

“You’ve got a great idea, you’re going to make money, but you’re not thinking BIG enough!”

Well, that was pretty inspiring. Message received. Thinking bigger!

Startup Fest was about a lot more than just presentations.

Bowling with Hippos

Bowling with Hippos

Way more than just presentations. People. Smart people. Entrepreneurs willing to build something, take chances and help each other. There was a LOT of fun to be had as well. Besides the Montreal nightlife, cuisine and electric atmosphere on the Main…there was bowling with hippos! Feel free to ask Scott Annan from Network Hippo to clarify!

Huge thanks to Phil Telio and his team for spear-heading this fantastic event. We hope to see this event back in Montreal next year!

What did you learn from StartupFest? Do you think this will become an annual event?