The Ultimate Guide to Hacking CES

In 6 years of running Red Swoosh I had over 3 of those without a salary. Necessity taught me the very fine art of bootstrapping. Blood, Sweat and RAMEN is what I like to call it. I was always thinking about how to make things ultra-cheap, hyper-efficient, while making a good story out of it. . .

Some of the most bootstrapping-hacking-fun I had was with CES. The Consumer Electronics Show is the yearly post-New-Year’s mecca for the techset. If you’re in the game you’ve got to be there. The problem is that it is a f*#king chaotic inefficient time-sucking, money grubbing melee (if you’ve been there you know what I’m talking about) with huge CES-gouged costs, and massive time sinks at every turn. With hardly any money in my pocket, my goal was to do CES for as cheap as humanly possible (<$100/day all in), while also making myself TWICE as efficient as all the chumps who were doing CES the conventional way.

For the NOOBS, here’s a rundown of the classic CES headaches:

Taxis

  • The average taxi wait line is 20-30 minutes –yes, that’s just the wait time for getting the taxi—Worst case can be an HOUR PLUS
  • If you only take the taxi once a day, maybe this would be tolerable. . . but you’ll be taking up to 8 taxi rides a day ($100/day)—lots of travel between meetings, between convention center and strip, and especially the party circuit
  • The aggravation of waiting for taxis during CES will take years off your lifespan, and cost you thousands of dollars in anger-management therapy.

Hotels

  • Everything’s booked within a 20 mile radius, so all prices are at CES-gouge level
  • The strip will cost you $300/night if you can get a room,
  • Getting in and out of your hotel can take 10-15 minutes. Vegas hotels are designed so that you don’t leave. Long winding hotel floors requires l33t FPS skills and even a rockstar will need 10-15 minutes to get out of the hotel! Of course the average CES chump will then wait for a cab for 30 minutes after he finally re-discovers the front door of the hotel.

Traffic

  • Getting from the Convention Center to anywhere else during rush hour is IMPOSSIBLE and can literally take hours.
  • Any CES vets who’ve been stuck on Paradise Rd. or Swenson St. at 6pm will tell you like it is: If you don’t carefully avoid the traffic, you will pay a steep price.

Parties

  • CES parties are where the real business gets done, but do you know what parties are happening where? . . are you on the lists?
  • No inside intelligence means no parties, means no real networking for the CES dwebe who thinks going to booths during the day will get it done.

The CES headaches quickly become a migraine. . . so let the CES hacking begin . . 🙂

Hack # 1 – Stay at EconoLodge

  • $40/night (huge $$ savings over strip)
  • The door to your room is 20 feet from the street (massive time savings to get to/from room)
  • Very close to convention center and opposite of traffic crunch(gargantuan time savings to avoid rush hour traffic)
  • I recommend the Econolodge at 1150 Las Vegas Blvd.
  • You’re no longer beholden to room service, or hotel restaurants. . . you’re close to fast food joints, pizza delivery is always an option AND stock your room with muffins, juice, beef jerky, junk food, Red Bull and other non-kitchen-type foods that you can eat quick to get you to (and through) the next meeting.

Hack #2 – Rent a car

  • $20/day (huge savings over taxi costs)
  • No taxi lines (massive time savings over taxi line)
  • FREEDOM! Go where you want when you need to. . .huge advantage for getting more done while your competitors are restricting their movement due to taxi constipation
  • I still don’t understand why more people don’t do this. . . and why this is a novel idea for bus. travel to vegas . . but it is
  • Literally park 1 foot away from your Econolodge room.

Hack #3 – Convention Center Parking

  • I can’t believe I’m giving this one away. . . this one’s a gem. . .there’s a parking lot right behind the convention center that goes for $5 (yes that is $15-20 cheaper than the far away Hilton parking lot that the wankers go to).
  • 5 minute walk into the convention center beats the other parking lots in the area by a long shot

Hack #4 – Party lists and party crashing

  • There are a few online party lists that track all the parties going on at CES. Do a google search for “2009 CES parties”. It may take a little time and diligent surfing before you get all the good stuff.
  • Do everything you can before parties to get on their lists. This happens in the weeks before CES, but I also recommend working the floor and booths, talking to folks about what’s going on , and whether the people manning the booths can hook you up.
  • For parties you are not on the list for, and cannot sneak in through the kitchen door or back door, wait near the front (but out of view of the bouncer). If you have a friend already inside, then have your friend borrow somebody else’s badge, and then put it on and go in the party and give it back to the original owner.
  • Alternatively, you can wait for people to come out, and then ask them for their badge.
  • You should be able to get into ANY party you want with these tactics.
  • Parties often have FREE food and FREE drinks. . . you never have to pay for dinner
  • Do not underestimate the power of the party circuit. It’s where crucial networking goes down, and it’s there that you become a player in the industry, not on the convention floor.

Hack #5 – Crashing panels, talk to panel speakers

  • This is standard fare for the bootstrapping entrepreneur, but it must be said: SNEAK INTO THE PANEL SESSIONS
  • First, it can help if you save your party badges and always where them. It can fool security at the passage ways into panels.
  • Second, there are often backdoors or entry ways into panel rooms, find them if above doesn’t work
  • Third, getting into the end of a panel discussion is much easier than getting in at the beginning. . .remember, you are there to crash the panels to meet the panel speakers. . . you ARE NOT there for the panel sessions, they’re garbage, and almost never tell you anything useful.
  • At the end of the panel, race to the front of the room to speak with and meet the panelists. Yes, you are going to be “that guy”, and yes, you are going to see him later in the evening at one of the parties and that’s where the real conversation happens.

Okay, those are the big ones. . . there’s a bunch of others but I’ll save that for my “Crash and Hack CES” book deal ;). Have a freakin blast guys and send your stories/questions/hacks in the comments below or travisk AT gmail D0T c0m.

Swooshdude

Why Joost p2p was *never* going to work

Since the late 90’s, p2p as a term has gone from a definition of communication between to pc’s to pretty much anything.

Particularly in the area of entertainment & media, companies have mindlessly bundled content access and application experience/UI with p2p infrastructure. It is this mindless coupling of the two that brought down Joost’s initial efforts to redefine the distribution and consumption of TV. After a couple of futile years, they’ve finally accepted that:

Yesterday, Techcrunch covered the final and formal demise of Joost P2P. And although Arrington gushed over Joost at the beginning, I just never did get the strategy.  From the point of Joost’s public unveiling in 2006, I told friends and colleagues that the bifurcated model was doomed. . .

P2P hype has confused a lot of folks who bundle the term p2p with anything and everything under the sun.  Creating a p2p infrastructure/delivery service, and building a content business, are 2 ENTIRELY different businesses.

It is the equivalent of a Television network building out a Tier-1 backbone infrastructure.

If Joost were to truly succeed at a content distribution portal–which requires expertise in content licensing, user acquisition, branding, playback/navigation experience– they would simply go to a vendor for the best p2p infrastructure. Furthermore, why should Joost spend all of their $$, focus, resources on building out the infrastructure, if they don’t have the content or the users that can use it??!!

Bottom line is that start-ups have a tough enough time getting one business right. It made no sense (even at the beginning) for Joost to go after two businesses, especially with all of the barriers that P2P presents –ESPECIALLY having to get users to install a client vs. just simply clicking and streaming which they can freely do at YouTube, Hulu, etc..

I’m pretty surprised that Niklaus Zennstrom went down this path. He’s a truly great entrepreneur, but missed the boat on this one.  It’s good to see that Joost has tightened their focus on the core value proposition – building an online audience around high-value TV content.  Maybe this will help turn their fortunes around.

It’s about time they joined the party.

Two problems, One solution

Like everybody who isn’t living under a rock, I’ve been scouring the financial news and blogosphere in complete astonishment on the financial debacle in the making.  Everything I’ve read has missed what I believe are the fundamental problems that caused this mess, and thus are missing the solutions that will get us out of it (if it’s not already too late).  There are two major reasons why the U.S. financial system is in the toilet and taking the rest of the world down with it, and there’s a straight-forward solution to the problem IMHO.

The REAL problems that seem to be getting overlooked:

1) Short term notes were used to finance long-term mortgages

Yes, there are foreclosures.  Yes, that hurts business, but so far we’re talking about foreclosure rates going from say 4% of all homes to 6% (.  The problem is that once a market was established for your mortgage’s cash flows, the mortgage industry said “Awesome!  We can sign mortgages with consumers, and then package and sell the mortgage and make our profit quick instead of over the 30 years it will take for the mortgage to be paid off.”

The problem is that these mortgage co’s then took out a short-term loan themselves, then lended that money to the home-owner (you got your mortgage), and sold the expected cash-flows (i.e. your mortgage payments) in this new marketplace.  When the marketplace lost confidence in the value of the assets being sold (partially due to foreclosure rates climbing, partially because of the lack of transparency), then the mortgage brokers couldn’t sell their mortgages off anymore. . . .BUT THEIR SHORT-TERM DEBT WAS STILL COMING DUE!!!   They had all these assets (mortgage cash flows) on the books but the only way to get them is to sit around and collect those payments over 30 years, but they have to pay off their short-term Loan RIGHT NOW.  This is the fundamental component of the credit crunch. . . Short-term debt that was financing long-term cash-flows.

2) In the face of a potential run on the bank, the bank president (i.e. Bush and Paulson) yelled “We’re headed for disaster!!!”

The Daily Show nailed this. . .Take a look at: Bush deja vu

The government was bailing some big boys out and saw that if things continue, there is going to be a need to do some institutionalized bailing out (i.e. no more one-offs, got to do these bailouts at scale).   So i think it can be useful for the government to bring confidence into markets to stem the possibility of a panic, or what is called a run on the bank.  There were a number of “runs on the bank” or market panics in the U.S. in the 1800’s and there eventually became an understood play book for how local bankowners should handle the occasional rumor or initial run on the bank.

I won’t go into the thick of the playbook, but the first rule, in the midst of a rumor, or run was always for the bank owner to get in front of all of their panicking customers and say,

“We’ve heard the rumors that have been circulating, they are without basis, we are a strong institution, and we know that is not proof enough for some of you, but to show this commitment to our customers and display our upstanding liquidity, we have implemented streamlined processes for people to pull their money out”

Basically, the theory behind stemming a panic is to make it incredibly clear to the most panicked, that they will get their money, and they will get it fast.  They would go home with their cash in hands and tell everybody, that it was really easy to get their money, and that there’s probably nothing really to worry about.  This stops most of the panics or runs on the bank in its tracks.

Furthermore, it would be UNHEARD of for the bank owner to get in front of his customers on the first day of the panic, and say

“We’re ALL SCREWED, we’re so screwed that its possible that our financial system could completely collapse”

Guess what, it is ALWAYS possible for the financial system to completely collapse. .. given an extreme lack of confidence.  The key is for the leaders/bank owners to stem the problem at its root with strong messaging backed with a strong, reasonable solution.

So now we get to the solution:

We need to start over on the solution.  First, I believe we can fix the fundamental short term debt issue . . . that has caused the lack of confidence in the financial institutions that has led to the “lending lock”. Second, we need to do a reset on our messaging.

The U.S. Gov’t needs to make long-term loans to financial institutions where the cash goes directly to paying off the financial institutions’ short-term debt.  Financial institutions then go back to what they used to do with long-term mortgages. .. . collect the payments one at a time over 30 years, and pay their debt off over the same period of time.  So what if the mortgage market is gone, the financial institutions will collect their payments (well most of the payments) from the homeowners, and pay their debt off over the same period of time.  My guess is that the minute trust that these financial institutions are not going out of business any time soon, that this entire crisis starts to turn around. . .

Now there are a ton of other things that could/should be done to deal with this crisis, changes to mark-to-market, transparency regulations for these markets, constraints on short-term debt for long-term assets and a bunch of others, but the core problem is the short term debt issue, and any solution that’s going to work, must address that problem.

Here’s the Step-by-Step quick draft for Paulson:

Step 1 – Come up with a comprehensive solution on the issue of short-term debt. Size the short-term debt problem and put out a proposal that would bring confidence that the long-term problems go away.  I would propose XXX or XXXX billions of dollars in long-term loans to banks and the US gov’t takes over the short-term debt.  Put transparency and mark-to-market rules that let some steam out of the uncertainty and panic.  Do not come up with half-measures, ad-hoc instruments that get brought out in an ad-hoc, seemingly reactive way.  Bring a real solution, and a real roadmap, a real plan.

Step 2 – Bring in a dream team of professionals to implement the plan. Assign a long-term “CEO” of the initiative, and make the oversight committee a group of dedicated, non-partisan professionals, instead of a figure-head congressional committee that meets once every few months.

Step 3 – Start Over on messaging. Be the stand-up “bankowner” and be a real leader.  Apologize for mistakes, present the plan to the American people (show us some charts–Ross Perot style).  Establish a set of values that are guiding the efforts, calm the fears, and start over with a better solution, and the confidence of the American people, and the international community.

What do you all think??

Expensify Launching at TC50!!

Below is a post I made on Expensify’s launch last week.  I’m an advisor to Expensify and am can’t wait to make this real pain go away for millions in need. . . ;<>)

my post on expensify:

Who here has a bag of stale receipts sitting in their closet?  Receipts that long, long ago should have made it into some expense report. . . of course to get there, you would have had to organize that big bag of receipts in chronological order, affixed and taped each of them to a separate blank sheet of paper, gotten some excel sheet or web-form and done a few hours of data entry.  Of course, you’d also have to remember what was discussed at that steak dinner in Denver (it was with customers. . .yeah, I’m sure it was), and then list their full names and titles.  The list of headaches stretches for miles. . .Taxi receipts not filled out, separating room charges from room service and hotel Internet, old faded receipts that are illegible. .. the list goes on and on.

So I think we all would agree that there is one word that is synonymous with doing expense reports. .. PAIN.

So much pain that it takes up to 45 minutes per $1000 of expense reporting.  For employees with expense-prone job descriptions (there are 50 million of you in the US: salespeople, office managers, small-business owners) that comes to 30-40 hours a year.  That’s a week’s worth of vacation, or a week more of actual selling to hit your quota.

The pain for many of the less expense-disciplined among us, hits us in our pocket book.  Some estimates are that 5% or more of all legitimate expenses never get reimbursed because of receipts that get lost, and expense reports that don’t get filed (referring to that bag of wilting receipts above).

Expensify wants to change that

Expensify’s Company Mission:  Empower small-business employees, independent contractors and sole proprietors with easy tools for PAINLESS expense reporting.

Expensify accomplishes this with 3 main Expensify components:

1) Expensify expense card – a card that you use to make expense purchases.  You top-up Expensify card with your existing credit card. The card makes expense categorization a breeze, and allows Expensify to automatically fill out expense reports.

2) Receipt capture and upload – take pictures of your receipts and upload with either Expensify’s iPhone application or with simple email attachments from your phone or PDA.

3) Expensify Dashboard – Expensify automatically associates the receipt images with the expense card entries.  You’re only a few clicks away from a completed expense report.  Submit digital expense reports to your boss or client (via email) or print out and send physical expense report.

So now you’re saying, this is all way too easy.  Expense reports done with only a few clicks, submitted before I even get back to the office from a trip.  No more lost receipts or expense report hell??!!  How much does Expensify cost?

Identical to PayPal pricing on an existing credit card, Expensify charges 3% of transactions made to the Expensify expense card.

How can you justify Expensify cost??  If Expensify saves even one receipt in thirty from getting lost in the shuffle, the extra reimbursements means Expensify pays for itself!  We also know that time is money, and the time you save not dealing with expense reports should add to your overall quality of life

And remember, Expensify charges ARE reimbursable expenses!!

So how do I get started?

Step 1 – Register at Expensify.com
– Enter email address and password
– Verification email sent to you
– Sign up for Expensify expense card

Step 2 – Set up iPhone/PDA for receipt image capture
– iPhone users: Install iPhone application for quick uploading of your receipt images
– Other phones/pda’s: Email photos to receipts@expensify.com

Step 3 – Impatiently wait for your Expensify expense card to be mailed to you
– Should be delivered in one week

You’ve now been EXPENSIFY’D!!  Enjoy easy no-hassle expense reporting!

Thanks for checking us out.  Give Expensify a shot, let us know what you think, and don’t hold back. .. feedback for the product, venting over previous expense report nightmares, just sound off. .. . and thanks for getting EXPENSIFY’D!!

“Expensify is launching at TC50!

Who here has a bag of stale receipts sitting in their closet?  Receipts that long, long ago should have made it into some expense report. . . of course to get there, you would have had to organize that big bag of receipts in chronological order, affixed and taped each of them to a separate blank sheet of paper, gotten some excel sheet or web-form and done a few hours of data entry.  Of course, you’d also have to remember what was discussed at that steak dinner in Denver (it was with customers. . .yeah, I’m sure it was), and then list their full names and titles.  The list of headaches stretches for miles. . .Taxi receipts not filled out, separating room charges from room service and hotel Internet, old faded receipts that are illegible. .. the list goes on and on.

So I think we all would agree that there is one word that is synonymous with doing expense reports. .. PAIN.

So much pain that it takes up to 45 minutes per $1000 of expense reporting.  For employees with expense-prone job descriptions (there are 50 million of you in the US: salespeople, office managers, small-business owners) that comes to 30-40 hours a year.  That’s a week’s worth of vacation, or a week more of actual selling to hit your quota.

The pain for many of the less expense-disciplined among us, hits us in our pocket book.  Some estimates are that 5% or more of all legitimate expenses never get reimbursed because of receipts that get lost, and expense reports that don’t get filed (referring to that bag of wilting receipts above).

Expensify wants to change that

Expensify’s Company Mission:  Empower small-business employees, independent contractors and sole proprietors with easy tools for PAINLESS expense reporting.

Expensify accomplishes this with 3 main Expensify components:

1) Expensify expense card – a card that you use to make expense purchases.  You top-up Expensify card with your existing credit card. The card makes expense categorization a breeze, and allows Expensify to automatically fill out expense reports.

2) Receipt capture and upload – take pictures of your receipts and upload with either Expensify’s iPhone application or with simple email attachments from your phone or PDA.

3) Expensify Dashboard – Expensify automatically associates the receipt images with the expense card entries.  You’re only a few clicks away from a completed expense report.  Submit digital expense reports to your boss or client (via email) or print out and send physical expense report.

So now you’re saying, this is all way too easy.  Expense reports done with only a few clicks, submitted before I even get back to the office from a trip.  No more lost receipts or expense report hell??!!  How much does Expensify cost?

Identical to PayPal pricing on an existing credit card, Expensify charges 3% of transactions made to the Expensify expense card.

How can you justify Expensify cost??  If Expensify saves even one receipt in thirty from getting lost in the shuffle, the extra reimbursements means Expensify pays for itself!  We also know that time is money, and the time you save not dealing with expense reports should add to your overall quality of life

And remember, Expensify charges ARE reimbursable expenses!!

So how do I get started?

Step 1 – Register at Expensify.com
– Enter email address and password
– Verification email sent to you
– Sign up for Expensify expense card

Step 2 – Set up iPhone/PDA for receipt image capture
– iPhone users: Install iPhone application for quick uploading of your receipt images
– Other phones/pda’s: Email photos to receipts@expensify.com

Step 3 – Impatiently wait for your Expensify expense card to be mailed to you
– Should be delivered in one week

You’ve now been EXPENSIFY’D!!  Enjoy easy no-hassle expense reporting!

Thanks for checking us out.  Give Expensify a shot, let us know what you think, and don’t hold back. .. feedback for the product, venting over previous expense report nightmares, just sound off. .. . and thanks for getting EXPENSIFY’D!!

Travis Kalanick
Expensify Advisor and happy customer”