Careers: Interviews
James Behrens: Renowned Entrepreneur, Visionary and CEO of Orb

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, has an exclusive interview with the entrepreneurial visionary, James Behrens.

Behrens is a serial entrepreneur working with his sixth start-up company - three of which are now public companies and the other two were acquired by other technology companies. Prior to Orb Networks, Behrens held the following positions: chief executive officer at Snaketech, president of SIS Microelectronics and executive vice president of engineering at Applied Medical. He also held senior management roles at Cadence Design Systems for nine years and executive positions with technology companies for the last 15 years in management, sales management, engineering, and marketing. Behrens holds two U.S. patents and a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Science from Colorado State Univ., Fort Collins, CO.

Discussion:

Q: Jim, with your long history of entrepreneurial and senior management success, we are particularly fortunate you found time for this interview. Thank you for sharing your considerable expertise and deep experiences with our audience.

A: It is my pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity.

Q: The concept of Web 2.0: collaborative-interactive-dynamic internet woven communities--is creating buzz worldwide. Blogs are the foundation of this new medium. These three questions revolve around Blogs and Web 2.0:

Q1: How would you define Web 2.0 and its various components?

A1: Much is being written about Web 2.0 so I won’t attempt to define something that I am sure someone else will say better.

In my view, one aspect that is very exciting about the next generation of the Web is that key barriers are being broken down; as more end users have high speed connections and multiple access points for using the Web – anywhere from any device -- the sky’s the limit.

Q2: Where do you see this heading in 2006, and into 2008? Can you provide a scenario of the environment for a user and a blogger?

A2: Over the next three years, the Internet will become increasingly accessible due to WiFi hotspots, 3G networks and possibly WiMax. But the question is not, “How many devices can I stuff network access onto?” Rather, it’s “What devices will get added value from network access?” And there is no question that corporations, start-ups and open source developers alike will find ways to use this pervasive network access to create compelling applications for users and bloggers.

This pervasive network access, however, raises the issue of content ownership in a much broader sense than the DRM issues we currently debate. I’m not trying to minimize DRM issues, but consider who or what “owns” your cell phone’s contact book, your archived e-mails or your blog software. For example, the popularity of WordPress stems not just from its excellent feature set, but because as an open source project, users own their content on a technical level – not their application service provider. As more complicated network-based services get deployed, users will eventually have to deal with issues of lock-in and substitution costs, and even today that is always a challenge.

I do think the focus will be on communities. These communities aren’t created just by bloggers. They are created by anyone who shares photos, home videos, or any self-generated content.

Q3: Which technologies do you find particularly compelling?

A3: Any technology that is so smart, so advanced that it does not force the user to be completely tech-savvy to use it. Take the iPod, for example. When it was launched, it was new technology but simple to use. With Orb, we are striving for the same user experience – for the true benefit of the next generation web to take hold, we need to make it easier for users of all types to embrace new technologies into their everyday lives.

Q: Can you tell us about Orb and the value and benefits the company can bring to our audience?

A: Orb is exciting because it’s the kind of thing that anyone can try – whether you are a more advanced technology user and you have the latest smart phone, or a more novice user who’s up on broadband for the first time and anxious to know how to tap into the full power of your PC and the internet.

We offer today a free service for accessing your digital media from your home computer through a simple Web interface. With a small download and a few clicks, you can stream live TV, music/video/photos to any web connected device - your laptop at work, your PDAs or even your cell phone. And those photos and home videos on your PC? Securely share them with others using Orb. No uploads, no sending huge files via email.

Q: Where do you see the company evolving into the future and how will it integrate with Web 2.0?

A: We will continue to use our patented technology to give users more freedom and control over how they interact with their own digital media – and anything that can be connected to or accessed with a PC. For example, we have free add-ons for the more advanced users who want to program their TiVo box using their cell phone (it’s called DVR Everywhere). We are about to roll out a free voice mail for Skype users so you can pick up your Skype voice mails from anywhere in the world (no need to log onto your PC anymore).

Q: Please make three predictions for the future involving the internet, their implications, and how business executives can best prepare?

A: 1) Digital rights management issues will be resolved and we certainly hope Orb will play a role. The days of Napster are long gone. Shares of the pie will be split – the legal specifics will be worked out, and as they are it will free up a whole new world in how users can enjoy their personal digital media – and companies who own the rights to that media (TV, music, movies, etc.) will continue to figure out how to make money.

2) When it comes to digital media, users will increasingly be in charge. Any service, product or device that fails to accommodate open standards and interoperability will be dead on arrival.  Imagine the adoption trajectory of the iPod had it not supported the MP3 file format. The bottom line is that content owners will figure out that licensing their content in flexible and user-friendly ways will drive adoption and therefore revenues.

3) Some day we’ll take this for granted – the Internet will be everywhere, running on everything, providing access to everything from an obscure video clip of your favorite garage band to live video of your dog in the backyard. Will the internet become the platform for the world? Maybe not yet, but we are certainly moving toward that point.

Q: Choose any topics of your choosing and provide commentary.

A:

Topic 1:

Americans still lag the rest of the world in cellular. Though we are finally closing the technology gap with some excellent 3G networks, some social hurdles still exist. More Americans drive to work, which makes people less likely to use mobile devices. Some people also don’t want to be seen as a “nerd,” so they might not embrace technology too publicly. Still, opportunities exist.

Topic 2:

Voice over IP makes multi-billion dollar telecoms nervous, but in the end it will be just another opportunity for growth. A useful reference is how the oil industry is one of the leading investors into alternative energy research. When hydrogen fuel cells are powering our cars, there is no question that the Chevrons and Shells of the world will be servicing those systems. What consumers expect out of utilities such as energy or telephony is a reliable, consistent experience. Telecoms can certainly deliver that kind of user experience over VoIP and can then supplement it with other useful services.

Topic 3:

First, TiVo introduced time-shifting, an enormously popular concept. But now, Orb is helping to introduce “place-shifting” – since as technology improves there is really no reason why consumers cannot have what they want, when they want it and where they want it – particularly if it’s something for which they have already paid.

Q: Jim, thank you for sharing your substantial insights with our audience based upon your extensive background.

A: You are most welcome.

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