Weekly output: tech PR, cybersecurity and wiretapping, 1776, Tech Night Owl, unlimited data, charging cables

According to this list, I spent more time talking about my job than actually doing it (and it’s not even counting the roughly three hours I spent talking to local startups at Day of Fosterly Saturday). That’s not actually true, but it’s not far from the truth either.

4/30/2013: Meet the Tech Media, BusinessWire

I talked about the intersections of technology, the media and public relations with Washington Technology editor Nick Wakeman, freelance writer Andrew Feinberg, Washington Business Journal reporter Bill Flook and Potomac Tech Wire editor Paul Sherman at the Tysons Corner Marriott.

DisCo cybersecurity wiretapping post5/1/2013: Government To Industry: Secure Your Systems, But Also Make Them Easy To Wiretap, Disruptive Competition Project

This post started when I read my old Post colleague Ellen Nakashima’s front-page story about a campaign to compel Internet services to provide real-time decryption of their encrypted communications services for law-enforcement inquiries. Then I thought about how that effort might square with the last two years of debate over what the Feds can do to get private industry to strengthen its cybersecurity defenses–and realized how that paralleled mid-1990s arguments over the government’s “Clipper chip” scheme.

5/3/2013: Media outreach breakfast, 1776

Déjà vu set in as I once again found myself onstage with Paul Sherman to talk about how the media covers tech startups–this time at the 1776 incubator on 15th Street downtown, almost directly across from the Post.

5/4/2013: May 4, 2013 —Tim Angel, Rob Pegoraro and Daniel Eran Dilger, Tech Night Owl Live

I returned to Gene Steinberg’s podcast to talk about Apple’s cliff-diving stock price (and what that says about Wall Street’s short-term judgment), Samsung’s Galaxy S 4 and the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s latest report on how well some major tech companies protect your data from government inquiries.

5/5/2013: Why hang on to your unlimited data plan?, USA Today

The post I wrote here about how much data people actually use on their phones led to this column questioning the value of unlimited-data wireless plans. It has not won universal applause so far. Ars Technica’s Jon Brodkin astutely pointed out that if you signed up for Verizon’s old unlimited plan long enough  ago, you could well save money by sticking with that, even if you have to pay an unsubsidized price for a phone; I was less persuaded by people saying they plow through 15 or 20 gigabytes a month without citing what apps chew up that much data.

On Sulia, I assessed the iOS version of Google Now, shared some quick reactions to my Fosterly Media Match experience, related how much my Nexus 4’s battery seems to like being on WiFi and 3G at the same time, and asked Web admins to make sure that site addresses don’t require users to type in a “www” prefix.

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Questions I ask (or should ask) of startups

I spent two hours and change on Saturday taking the testimony of D.C.-area tech startups in three-minute increments. The experience–part of an all-day networking event put on by the D.C.-area tech-community site Foster.ly–was a lot more interesting than that sentence makes it sound.

(The Washington City Paper’s Lydia DePillis, another Foster.ly media attendee, wrote about eight of the more promising startups she talked to.)

Then on Tuesday, I saw another batch of local startups offer their pitches at a Northern Virginia Technology Council event. I’ve done the same thing at multiple gatherings around D.C. and in the Bay Area. As a small businessman myself, I find the whole routine getting more interesting–despite my general allergy to business-plan PowerPoints.

One customary formula for coverage of a startup starts with who invested in it and for how much. I find that boring. There’s so much money sloshing around–sometimes dumped on particular startups in absurd allocations–that I don’t think this provides enough insight on the virtues of a new tech company. Instead, here are the questions I’d rather ask:

What’s the problem you’re trying to solve? What’s the inefficiency, informational asymmetry  or overall inelegance you want to smooth out?

Most people have this answer memorized, but you have to start with it anyway. (In case anybody’s curious, the problem I’m trying to solve with my own work is the surplus of hasty tech journalism reported without benefit of historical insight or simple skepticism and then written with an excessive attention to specifications, momentum or buzz.)

Who else has that goal? Who else–in particular, which large, incumbent firms–might decide they need to join in the fun?

You have to be able to find the competitor and the possible competitor.

How do you make money?

So rude to ask, I know. Bonus points if a company has multiple revenue possibilities in mind. But if you have enough investors lined up to pave your runway a few years into the future, I will cut some slack on this. (A figure-it-out-later strategy seems to have worked fine for Instagram.)

What things beyond your control need to happen before you can make money? Who has a finger on a kill switch for your company?

If your idea depends on massive network effects, you’ve got a steep hill to ascend. I hope your business proposition also works with a small amount of customers… and that it isn’t dependent on a blessing by the App Store, Hollywood, giant telecom firms or corporate IT departments.

Then there’s the question I often forget about, even after being reminded of its importance at a SXSW panel discussion this spring:

If you go bust, what happens to your users’ data?

What questions would you ask?