Telepresence bots, software for solar, the end of geography, & more

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Telepresence bots, software for solar, the end of geography, & more Wade 10/2/10 9:47 AM
Time for my second update on the big technology and business stories that have been keeping me busy lately. To my newest Google Groups subscribers: welcome and thanks for signing up.

It's been an incredible privilege to get to know so many of the founder-entrepreneurs from this summer's class of Y Combinator companies. Continuing my series of YC profiles, I wrote a story on September 20 about Whereoscope, which has come up with a way to use mobile location-tracking technologies to keep track of your kids/spouse/S.O. without draining their smartphone batteries. I've got unpublished notes on YC alumni HireHive, OhLife, Adioso, FutureAdvisor, and GinzaMetrics, so expect to see stories on those companies soon.

Speaking of Y Combinator, I visited Anybots, the cool robotics startup that shares a building in Mountain View with the startup incubator. Anybots founder Trevor Blackwell (who's also an investor in Y Combinator) related the story of the company's switch from building robots with remote-operated hands to its current focus on telepresence robots for white-collar workers. I'm trying to supplement more of my stories with short videos, and I was able to shoot a fun one at Anybots.

But the real theme for the week of September 20 turned out to be solar energy. I unpacked the business model at Recurve, a San Francisco company that may look from the outside like just another home energy-efficiency retrofitter, but which has built some pretty remarkable software to systematize home energy auditing and has big ambitions to work with utilities on large scale demand-reduction projects.

Then I tackled an interview I'd done back in August with Danny Kennedy, the former Greenpeace activist and executive who founded Oakland, CA-based Sungevity -- another company using software and the Internet to build a scalable business around home energy upgrades, photovoltaic panel installation in this case. I broke that interview into two parts, the first focusing on Sungevity's custom solar design software and the second on Kennedy's switch from environmental activism to energy entrepreneurship.

After driving past's cheeky billboard on U.S. 101 so many times, I had to visit the company and find out what makes the founders of this five-year-old startup feel they can compete with Microsoft in the area of enterprise file sharing and collaboration. CEO Aaron Levie told me why he's convinced that Microsoft SharePoint is a dinosaur and why today's workers want collaboration tools that are cheap, social, and cloud-based. 

I also had the opportunity to write about Evri, which introduced a fleet of news apps for iPhone and Android that showcase the startup's semantic search technology, and nPario, which is using multi-platform behavioral targeting technology developed at Yahoo to help big clients like Electronic Arts pitch consumers when they're most likely to respond, whether that means putting an ad into a news site, a mobile app, a social online game, or a console game.

I wrapped up September with a column arguing that it's time to stop arguing about whether New York, Boston, or Silicon Valley is the "best" place to be a tech entrepreneur. You may still need to make a pilgrimage to Mount Money or Sand Hill Road to raise your seed or Series A round, but thanks in part to telepresence and collaboration technology from companies like and Anybots, your workers can be anywhere. Distributed companies (and Xconomy is one) may actually have an advantage, since their operations and their situational awareness extend across time zones.

That's all for now -- enjoy your weekend and I'll send out another note like this one in a couple of weeks.