Netgear Router Hell

I’ve always liked Netgear. They seem to be a company that stays ahead of the technology curve, makes reliable products and understand the balance between easy to use and advanced features. I no longer like Netgear.

My old Netgear router, which had been the paradigm of reliability, died suddenly last week. It was over two years old, so I didn’t complain too much. Instead, I made an emergency run to Fry’s and purchased the top-of-the-line WNDR3700 Range-Max dual band wireless N gigabit router. The two main features I really liked were: (1) very high speed processor that should give better performance, and (2) ability to configure 2 SSID’s, so that a visitor could gain access to the internet without getting access to either my security phrase or my local data. Very cool I thought.

Setup took me a typical time – about an hour. And after the usual of downloading the latest firmware, having to reboot all of the other switches and my modem, I was on the internet, transferring files, etc. The wifi worked with my iPad and iPhone. And for those regular readers, it also worked with my home theatre control system. All was good in the world again.

Given that it was past midnight when I finished, I waited to add the cool new features till the next day. It was then that my router stopped working. I enabled the guest SSIDs, and suddenly the wifi was dead. I went into the configuration menu, and noticed the radios were turned off, so turned them back on – only they didn’t go back on. So, I looked at the router, and the lights for the wifi were off. I manually turned them on. But they turned off on their own again as soon as I downloaded the config. Thinking I had inadvertently misconfigured the router, I reset it to factory configuration and started again. Then the problem repeated itself as soon as I turned on the guest network. I played with the various settings, but it happened every time. So.. I concluded I had a defective unit.

The next morning, I hopped in the car and drove the 15 miles to Fry’s, who were gracious about the exchange. Got the new unit home and it was exactly the same. By this point, I had invested well over 8 hours on this, not to mention the previous 4 I spent figuring out that my old modem had failed.

So, I began investigating on the web, only to learn that this has been a known problem with this unit since March. (See: http://forum1.netgear.com/showthread.php?t=49720&highlight=guest+ssid). The original bacth of routers sold prior to January, apparently do not have this problem. But the ones sold in 2010, all suffer from this issue. There has been a beta firmware upgrade available for two months that fixes the problem, but seems to have other issues. Netgear will release it, but only under NDA! So the message is, you have to suffer, call our customer service, be put on hold, sign and NDA, and then we will give you a less buggy upgrade, for a product that didn’t work to begin with. In other words, Netgear has known that they are selling a defective unit for over three months, continue to sell this unit, have not notified their retailers, and let customers know that this was a problem.

This is intolerable and unacceptable behavior, the kind that should be punished by fines, and big ones at that. My time is valuable to me, but apparently not to companies like Netgear that feel it is acceptable to have their customers to their testing, spend countless hours making a defective product work, and then have to beg for a solution that exists. They should just recall this defective product and either replace it with one that works, or refund 100% of their customers money, and also give a credit for future products.

Apple Overtakes Microsoft as the Most Valuable Tech Company

John Cook from Tech Flash asked me to comment on the following question:What should Microsoft do to reposition itself as the most dominant and valuable tech company on the planet?

This is not a problem that has appeared over night; it has been decades in the making and can’t be cured with a single act.  The industry has matured, and Microsoft is still run like the company it was 20 years ago.  It lacks the visionary who can anticipate what its customers will desire and the ability to delight and surprise (in a positive way) those customers with a clean and crisp innovation.

Microsoft has become the IBM of the last generation – it is a de facto enterprise solution and “no one will get fired for selecting Microsoft.”  Microsoft had the ability to lead the way in the Internet, but it instead focused on the competition inside and didn’t dream the big dream.  Worse – it became boring!

Look at Windows Vista and Office 2007.  Neither were improvements on previous versions, nor were they more stable or easier to use.  And, of course, Microsoft had the clear shot at the Smartphone operating system.  Instead, it tried to bring us Windows on our phones.

Customers wanted new thinking, sleek products, and ones that were much easier to use.  The iPhone was really a breakthrough – a browser-based phone that was truly useful and enabled 1000’s of cheap, easy, and imaginative apps.  Apple unleashed the imagination and creativity of an entire generation.  And then they extended it to the iPad.  They took leadership of the entire industry.  They earned the mantle.

The fact that a large company loses its ability to innovate is not a surprise.  I call this the  “$0B Business Problem.”    As an illustration, I was the first GM of the Microsoft Search team.  We had a great plan to lead the search business that would grow to a new $250M business in 3 years. (Any VC would have funded this business; it returned over 50x ROI.)  But we competed for resources with Excel, which needed the same 25 headcount, and had an net present value of $4B.  In that context, my $250M rounded to $0B, and we didn’t get the people.

Microsoft needs to find a way to unleash it’s innovation.  It needs to behave more like  a startup.  When I was there, I suggested Microsoft form a group called “The Idea Factory,” where innovative and entrepreneurial employees could “spin in” (rather than spin out) a new idea, and create a startup around that idea.  The notion was that an internal VC group would vet and fund a portfolio of ideas, in exchange for ownership in the new company(newco)  and a right to acquire the entire company at a later date at a market price.  The employees who transferred to newco would exchange their options/restricted shares for newco stock.   And the newco would hire a great startup CEO to build the company.  These newcos shouldn’t be constrained to “work within the existing system,” or you will get another Windows Mobile instead of an iPhone.

Changing leadership at Microsoft, but keeping the system, won’t change the company’s trajectory.  Acquiring a large and already successful company won’t solve the problem.  Nor will decreeing that it is going to “kill Google,” or “kill iPhone.”  Microsoft still has the most formidable research and intellectual ability in the industry.  Microsoft needs a better vision, one that is tied to delighting customers.  Technology that is easier to use and just works.  And technology that surprises it customers.  If Microsoft can’t make this transition, it risks becoming irrelevant in the industry. That would be sad.

Success!!

All of the work on the Dodd bill by angels and their supporters in the Senate has paid off. Today, a bipartisan amendment sponsored by Senators Kit Bond (R-MO) and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and co-sponsored by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Scott Brown (R-MA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Mark Begich (D-AK) was adopted by voice vote as part of the financial reform bill being debated in the Senate. See the following announcement:

http://banking.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Newsroom.PressReleases&ContentRecord_id=a8a93650-936c-1e68-27b0-a38401ac9619

Thanks to all of the angel investor groups who contacted their Senators, and thanks to those Senators who recognized the importance of our mission and got the entire Senate to support our cause.

Modumetal – the ACA Innovative Company of the Year

Greetings from San Francisco, where I am attending the Angel Capital Association (ACA) annual meeting. This afternoon, the ACA introduced a new award named after Luis Villalobos, one of the nations’ most prominent angels and founder of the Tech Coast Angels, who unexpectedly died last Fall. I was asked to introduce Christina Lomasney, the Modumetal CEO. Here are my remarks and the ACA press release:

Thanks, Richard [Sudek, the chair of the TCA and outgoing ACA board member].

It was just one short year ago in Atlanta that Luis and I decided to walk back from dinner and discuss our shared passions for Angel investing and innovative companies.

It is my distinct pleasure to introduce Christina Lomasney and Modumetal – both of whom embody my discussion with Luis and a great example of Peter’s [Diamandis, Chairman of the X Prize Foundation, who had just spoken] exponential company.

In more than 25 years of investing in and starting companies, it is rare to see an idea that can create and industry and change the world. Modumetal is such a company.

Christina has inspired the Alliance of Angels and other local angels with her vision to invest more than $4.9M. And inspired her employees to achieve great things with limited resources. And inspired large customers to bet on this early stage startup. Modumetal is a great example of why we angels do what we do – investing in innovative startups and helping them change the world.

Join me in recognizing the 2010 Luis Villalobos Award winner – Modumetal and Christina Lomasney.

Here is the ACA Press Release:

For Immediate Release

Contact:

Marianne Hudson
ACA/ACEF
913-894-4700 x1 (or 816-668-2248)

mhudson@angelcapitalassociation.org

Contact:
Erich Mische
Modumetal
877-632-4242
erich.mische@modumetal.com

Modumetal Named 2010 Luis Villalobos Award Recipient

National Award Recognizes Most Innovative Idea Financed by ACA Angel Group

San Francisco, CA, May 6, 2010 – The Angel Capital Association (ACA) named Modumetal of Seattle, WA, as inaugural winner of the Luis Villalobos Award.

The national award, which was established in 2010 to honor the late Mr. Villalobos, founder of Tech Coast Angels and a true “leading light” in the angel field, recognizes the most ingenious and innovative idea recently financed by one of the member angel groups of the Angel Capital Association.

Christina Lomasney, Modumetal co-founder, president, and CEO was presented the award at the 2010 ACA Summit in San Francisco, CA. The Summit was attended by 400 angel group leaders and investors from the United States, Canada, and 23 other countries.

“Luis was an innovator and a ferocious learner and tireless entrepreneur supporter,” said Richard Sudek, chairman of Tech Coast Angels and chair of the Luis Villalobos Award committee. “He started one of the early angel groups, and was intrigued and excited about innovative technology, science, and new ways of doing things. It made so much sense for ACA to honor Luis with this award which recognizes entrepreneurs who make very unique contributions that are disruptive or game changing.”

Modumetal is creating a new class of ultra-high performance nano-laminated materials.

“The leadership and support that Mr. Villalobos represented in helping entrepreneurs to realize their visions for the world echoes clearly today for Modumetal in his stories, his example, and in his own perseverance in realizing the Tech Coast Angels.” Lomasney said. “The Modumetal team is grateful for Luis’ inspiration and is honored to be the first to receive the Luis Villalobos Award for innovation.”

The Modumetal by Design™ process uses electricity instead of heat to grow metal from the ground up, in nano-scale layers. Modumetal, a revolutionary nano-laminated alloy system, is stronger and lighter than steel, can run longer and hotter than nickel-alloys, is more corrosion resistant, and costs less than stainless.

Alliance of Angels (AoA) of Seattle, WA co-led a multimillion-dollar Series A investment round in Modumetal. The syndicated round included significant investment from AoA members as well as from co-lead investor Second Avenue Partners and the Washington Research Foundation of Seattle.

“Between the people, the product, and their approach, I think Modumetal is one of the most creative and innovative companies in my twenty-five years of investing,” said Dan Rosen, Alliance of Angel chair.

Modumetal’s nano-laminate alloys have the potential to create an entire multi-billion industry that will transform transportation, aerospace, energy, and defense industries.

“This is exactly the sort of deal that Luis would have loved,” Rosen said. “Modumetal has inspired its employees to achieve great things, its investors to believe they can change the world, and its customers to work with this small startup to implement this striking innovation and change the way things are done.”


The Angel Capital Association
(ACA) is a trade association that supports angel investment groups in North America. ACA was founded by angel investment groups located in the United States and Canada to help maximize the success of group based angel investors.
(www.angelcapitalassociation.org)

Modumetal of Seattle, WA, is realizing the commercial potential of a unique class of nano-laminated materials. The Company is creating materials that will change design and manufacturing of metals by redefining structural, corrosion, and high temperature performance. Modumetal is made by a “green” electrochemical manufacturing approach, which reduces the carbon footprint of conventional metals manufacturing at the same time that it revolutionizes materials performance. (www.modumetal.com).

Apple’s Folly

The battle between Apple and Adobe is ridiculous. Ok.. it makes sense if you like to watch two large sumo wrestlers belly bump, ignoring customers and wanting to try to force the market to adopt their products, despite what the market wants. Let’s look at this more carefully.

First of all, many web pages (especially the most interesting ones) use Adobe Flash. I really like those pages.

Secondly, Apple won’t let anyone deploy Flash on its iPad or Safari browser, denying their customers the ability to see those pages. (Remind anyone of the worst of the Microsoft behavior that the government sued them for?)

Third, Apple has alternative technologies that it says are better, use less power, and are optimized to their devices. This is, in some ways, true. But it is also irrelevant. Apple should not make this choice for their customers – it should allow customers to discover it for themselves. A great example of why this is true is the Netflix app on the iPad – I love this app. The quality is great, it doesn’t drain the battery, and the image quality seems better than I get by streaming Netflix to my HD projector. This is a great example of the quality of the Apple technology. If it performs that well on the iPad, it should win in the marketplace. But I hate being told that I must use it.

Lastly, the real reason for this decision was made evident when Apple banned the use of applications that otherwise complied with their standards, but were written on Adobe software.

So.. Steve Jobs please let us see Flash web pages. You have created great technology and products. The iPhone and IPad are transformative. You don’t need to force your customers to use your technology. If you keep innovating, your customers will decide to use what you produce. Use your market leadership with confidence. Win by being better. Don’t emulate the worst behavior; emulate the best.

A Bluetooth Headset that Works …. Finally

I am a gadget junkie. I admit it. And I have a box full of Bluetooth headsets. I’ve pretty much bought each new one as they come out, only to be disappointed. On my end, they are generally pretty good. On the other end, I’ve often been told that I sound like I’m in a wind tunnel, underwater, with my mouth full of marbles. Not the best sound quality!

And then I got the first Jawbone. It was markedly better. But it was pretty heavy, and the earloop broke all the time. For it to work, the tip needed to rest on your jaw. As my friends at Microsoft Research had predicted, that was the best solution. And then they came out with the smaller version 2. And it was terrible. I couldn’t keep it on my jaw, the earloop was even more fragile, and I couldn’t keep it either in my ear or against my jaw. (I wasn’t alone. Read their support blogs.) Out of sheer frustration, I bought the Plantronics 925. Better.

And then I upgraded to the Plantronics Discovery 975 (http://www.plantronics.com/north_america/en_US/products/mobile/bluetooth-headsets/discovery-975). This is a good Bluetooth headset! I’ve had people ask if I’m on a landline (until the terrible service of my iPhone and AT&T makes the connection terrible!). It uses two mics, a DSP, and has some clever wind shielding technology. It’s comfortable and fits well in my ear. Seems to connect well with both of my cell phones. And, perhaps most cleverly, it has a case with a built in recharging battery, so that the headset charges when you put it in the case. The case also contains a small screen that shows the state of the charge.

Very cool.