Idiocy and brilliance of American policy toward entrepreneurs

Listen to the story of Aye Moah. She grew up in one of the poorest countries on earth. She shouldn’t have many opportunities. Yet here she was, talking with me at a Silicon Valley party after the Always On conference. The route she took? She went to MIT. How did she get in? Was one of the top-scoring students in Burma. One of the top 10, in fact. Then she scored a perfect 800 on the SAT. That’s a cool story alone.

But now keep listening. She is one of the top talented people in the world. The kind that help start companies that hire thousands of people.

Yet she can’t work here in the United States.

Let me get this right. One of the smartest people in an entire country gets an invite to come to the United States to study. Does so. Gets a great education from one of the top universities in the world. And we can’t employ her because of our screwed up immigration laws.

Shame on America.

Even if she were to get a work visa, it probably would be from a bigger company that would treat her poorly (I keep hearing stories of how immigrants are treated like crap and can’t leave, otherwise their work visa will be yanked). These laws are unjust and not American. Worse yet they are anti innovation because it’s these smart, highly educated, people who will start the next companies. It isn’t lost on me that eBay was started by an Iranian.

But, standing next to her was Ronald Mannak. He is an entrepreneur who lost everything he owned. In Holland if your company fails and you’ve taken venture capital you are personally liable for the losses. So, Ronald owes the Dutch government $200,000 and lost everything, even his fridge, he told us.

Here in Silicon Valley it’s different. We let you fail, multiple times, and you aren’t personally liable to the venture capitalists.

So, here, in one video, you have a demonstration of how American policy is both brilliant and idiotic at the same time.

It’s amazing how anti immigrant we’ve become. Stupidly so, too.

This is why I support the Startup Visa project and urge you to support it too.

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Does adding Twitter to a brand make it cooler?

Lorenzo's "Twitter bike"

Jorge Lorenzo is on top of the world right now. He’s a 23-year-old motorbike racer from Mallorca in Spain and is atop the standings in the MotoGP circuit (he won yesterday’s race in Laguna Seca by several seconds, too). But he has a problem. Teammate Valentino Rossi has a better brand. Mostly because Rossi is older, has won season after season, and has cultivated thousands of fans. When I saw Rossi speak last year at Indianapolis fans were literally crying for a chance to touch him. Seriously. Most of us have never seen celebrity like this close up. Photo of Lorenzo’s Twitter sign on his bike taken by my producer Rocky Barbanica — we got a tour yesterday of his pits and got a chance to see the Twitter bike up close and personal. More of my photos are up on Flickr.

#1 MotoGP rider Jorge Lorenzo

But the MotoGP sport has a problem. If Rossi can’t race anymore, like he couldn’t for a month this year because he broke his leg, ticket sales go down. A lot.

#1 MotoGP rider Jorge Lorenzo

So, the Fiat/Yamaha team is trying something new: Twitter.

While Rossi disdains talking with fans online, Lorenzo welcomes it. Posting photos, doing his own tweets, and meeting with fans one-on-one which, over time, will make him a world-wide brand. He also does things to get his Twitter fans to talk, like after the race yesterday he donned a space suit and re-enacted man’s landing on the moon at the top of Laguna Seca’s famous corkscrew turns (last week was the anniversary of the moon landing). Photo by Umberto Schiavella.

Laguna Seca - Race

But he pushes it further than any other racer on the MotoGP circuit and is including Twitter on his bike (Twitter gets this exposure for free, unlike other sponsors on his bike) and even holding up signs after races asking fans to follow him on Twitter.

Yes, the sport is also using other technologies, like small TV cameras to get fans at home into the race, but every racer is doing that.

Lorenzo's video camera

Only Lorenzo is really using Twitter in any big way on the track.

I’m noticing this with more and more brands: they are using Twitter to get an edge on their competition in the branding war — I’m seeing more and more “follow us on Twitter signs” in restaurants, malls, and even amusement parks. Are you noticing this too? Question is, does adding Twitter to a brand make it cooler?

To me it does.

Why?

1. It sends a signal to the world that you want to hear from your customers.
2. It sends a signal to the world that you’ll use the latest technology to communicate with them. Many of whom are no longer using email. My son, for instance, rarely uses email to communicate with his friends.
3. It lets you feature your customers. Notice the pictures on Lorenzo’s bike? They are his fans on Twitter. Win-win.
4. It gives your team a way to communicate in one stream all the photos and stuff.
5. It lets you bridge audiences around the world. Look at how he mixes Spanish and English together on Tweets.

"Follow Me on Twitter" Banner

But what do you think? What are you seeing the bleeding edge brands doing today to find more customers and build more brand loyalty? I wonder what Chris Brogan would say?

Oh, and it wasn’t lost on the team that about 100 people were checked in at the track on Foursquare. How long before Foursquare has some involvement with race and sports brands? I give it a few hours the way Foursquare’s business developer Tristan Walker has been working lately.

Finally, just in case, they are on Flickr at lorenzo99 and has an old-school website plus a Facebook fan page. But the team tells me that Lorenzo likes Twitter the best. He even wants to visit Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco to meet his hero, Evan Williams. I bet he gets that dream. Something about him tells me he’s going to be someone we’ll hear from for a long time to come.

#1 MotoGP rider Jorge Lorenzo

Flipboard: A startup’s first bad day or success?

Flipboard's team

I’m seeing lots of tweets saying I caused Flipboard to have a bad first day. Why? Because its servers were overwhelmed and it wasn’t letting new users sign up properly and even existing users, like me, were having trouble getting to the service and getting utility out of it.

Is that my fault? Yes and no. If I were the only one hyping it and if the product didn’t resonate after I hyped it they would have only gotten a few hundred visits. The problem is that Flipboard is the real deal. If you can get in and get it to work it’s a revolutionary product and hundreds, if not thousands, of people on Twitter and blogs said so. The reviews still are coming in and they almost all are positive. That I didn’t do, even if I was the first to tell the Internet about it.

What’s funny is I just hit the Twitter fail whale three times. Twitter is a company that has been around for three years and continues to have scalability and reliability problems yet we all keep using Twitter. It has gotten so commonplace that we sort of accept it, too, even in discussions with venture capitalists who helped fund Twitter, like the conversation I witnessed yesterday with Fred Wilson. He said Twitter was never built right to start with.

I see on iTunes that Flipboard is getting some bad reviews because of this reliability issue. Is it fair to judge a startup badly based on 24 hours of extraordinary growth? Yeah, a little. They could have been better prepared — I sent them plenty of notes telling them they were the best startup I’ve seen so far this year and I kept telling them about reactions of influencers — all which matched my observations.

In fact, when I showed it to famous actor Ashton Kutcher he was so excited about the product (said it was “a revolution in publishing”) he turned to me and begged to be introduced to the company. “I want to invest in this,” he told me. A week later he was, indeed, an investor.

The former head of MTV had the same reaction this weekend.

So they had some warning that their first day would be incredible and see an much larger amount of hype than they would otherwise see.

What’s my failing? I tried to get them to use Rackspace for hosting their service. I failed, they are using another cloud provider. I failed so badly that I couldn’t even convince them to change providers a few months ago when their provider was down when I visited them to get an early look at this company. I think I must take some sales lessons and get retrained. Sigh. But even with Rackspace’s help would we have been able to keep them up? I would like to think so. After all, Rackspace hosted YouTube for its first few years of life and has helped many startups scale.

But this is a world we’ve never seen. Things get faster, bigger, than any time in human history.

The number of people who’ve worked at companies that have seen this kind of growth — all in 24 hours — are almost non-existent. Even experienced entrepreneurs, like Flipboard’s CEO, who started TellMe, which sold to Microsoft for $800 million, have never seen this kind of growth.

I remember back to 1996. ICQ that year released November 1 to 40 people. It took six weeks to get to 65,000 users. I bet Flipboard got close to that in just their first day (I don’t know their numbers, but, heck, a few weeks back I had a VIDEO watched by half a million people in a week, so I bet Flipboard is seeing those kinds of numbers based on the hypestorm that I see continuing around this company).

It is a new world and this new world is bumpy.

Anyway, just my way of saying to cut a team of 10 people who’ve done something extraordinary some slack. No one else has launched a company to this kind of hype, er, adoption, and stayed up as well as Flipboard has. At least none that I know of. Do you know of someone who has had a better first day?

Onward for all of us. Flipboard is working hard (its developers are on Twitter and I can see them responding to customers as to what they are doing to get and stay up) and I’m back on the street looking around the tech industry for the next hot startup.

Got one? Email me. scobleizer@gmail.com

Update. I just added a photo of Flipboard’s team to this post. Left to right (forefront folks):
co-founder, Evan Doll
engineer, Troy Brant
engineer, Charles Ying
engineer, Gene Tsai
co-founder, Mike McCue

UPDATE 2: PC Magazine has an interview with Flipboard’s founders, asking for patience.