Every new day brings a new opportunity and today I had the fortune to enjoy a unique experience; the one of receiving a cease and desist letter. The email regarded the “use of XXX company’s logo and trade name in my websites http://datamine.it & http://gtziralis.com/post/59121553/introducing-datamine-it” and I cannot put it better than pasting some (slightly modified to avoid mentioning the sender, if that is possible after all) excerpts from the letter itself.
As it is already known to your goodselves (comment: I appreciate that, nice template by the way!), our clients have already registered the logo and trade name “DATAMINE” in the Greek Ministry of Commerce under the Number XXX since XXX (pursuant to the decision XXX of the Trade Mark Committee).
According to the said decision XXX has the right to use the above mentioned logo in order to distinct specific products and services, such as, information technology services, data warehousing, gathering and process analysis, IT infrastructure architecture and systems integration, reporting, predictive modelling, software engineering, statistical science, data-mining and many others.
Given that XXX is the sole beneficiary of the Logo “DATAMINE” and since your behavior to act in the Greek Market under the same Trade Mark by sending business offers to our clients deceiving them on your identity, constitutes an illegitimate and unconventional act, and in order to avoid any legal proceedings against you and your company, we hereby, without prejudice,
CALL UPON YOU (caps are not mine)
to immediately cease, discontinue and interrupt the use of the Trade Mark and Logo “DATAMINE” upon receipt of the present notice of demand. Otherwise we are left with no alternative but to proceed, without further notice, with any and all steps available to seek security/satisfaction in case you have not taken the proper action.
Ok, let me now shed some light and put things in context. When we came up with the idea of getting together and turn our humble expertise into a start-up (the story is in the link above, put the blame on me!), we didn’t even think of the term “data mining” as a trademark or anything like that (you know, we are scientists and engineers above everything else and we lack knowledge of legalities or pathological imagination, poor us).
So, we started looking for a catchy domain name to better describe our offering, which is, well, data mining (check wikipedia for more on this popular research area, plus there exist today only 14.3 million relevant results in the web, according to google). We came up with the phrase “data mine it” and the italian domain “datamine.it”, utilizing a “domain hack” just like myriads of other web services like del.icio.us, blo.gs, grou.ps etc. ad infinitum do.
And we launched the website about three months ago, targeting the international market and waiting for our services to mature before we get incorporated or quit our day jobs (neither of which is a fact yet). To give you a better idea of the way we look at things and “competition” (with the conventional use of it), we also organized an open event entitled “data mining in business”, sending an invite to company XXX to be our proud guest speaker.
We actually didn’t receive a reply, or I think -to my great surprise- we just did, asking us to comply with some requirements I personally find nonsense, to say the least. And it is not that big of an effort to satisfy these requirements; to be honest it’s a matter of minutes and a few euros to find a better domain and change our logo, plus we haven’t build such a fantastic brand awareness yet and a simple redirect will do the job for us.
However, before moving on, I need some clear answers in the following questions and I would be glad if you could elaborate.
- Firstly, is it possible for a firm to trademark the name of a research field or a popular tool (like data mining or statistics or … email)? In this context, if company X registers the trademark “statistics” or “email”, then nobody is able to provide email services, or relevant services to email, or utilize anyhow the term “email”, is that correct?
- Second, if a company owns the “trademark” of “datamine” (or anything else in that matter) in Greece, or Delaware or Papua New Guinea, then every other company willing to pitch a customer in that location, having a name or offering somehow related to this trademark (like datamine.co.uk, datamine.com etc) should ask for the local company’s permission first?
- Finally, if “datamine” is registered as a trademark, then is this trademark also valid in every other derivative of it (just like the full “datamine.it” we are using religiously) or every component of the word (in our case “data” and “mine”)? In that case for example, should every company ask for British Airways’ permission to include the syllable “ba” (as of ba.com) in its brand?
Generic nonsense or our innocence, I would be happy if the above proved to be just a poor joke. In case that it’s not, while I undertake full responsibility of everything wrong (?) happened, I dare to say that our team is more determined and passionate than ever to turn threats into opportunities and a bad (?) start into a great asset, good karma included.
You get to know the results.
A paper I co-authored is finally published (in early view, .pdf) in the journal of Managerial and Decision Economics. Along with Konstantinos Kirytopoulos, Athanassios Rentizelas and my professor Ilias Tatsiopoulos, we proposed an holistic approach to investment assessment, a process of value that may be highlighted under the current economic situation.
To make a long story short, the typical approach to investment assessment includes the following steps, as these are described in the figure.
However, one may argue that the process remains fundamentally suboptimal, with the discrete nature of its steps serving as one of its most important flaws (given that the optimization of each step does not necessarily result into the optimization of the process as a whole). We tried to address this concern by introducing an integrated holistic approach, as in the figure that follows.
The input variables to the selected criterion’s function (typically Net Present Value) is broken into two categories, the ones directly defined by the investor being the first (like investment’s height or operational specifications), and those that cannot be modified being the second (interest rates etc).
The approach suggests initially assigning to the latter ones their most probable values, so as to be able to optimize (using genetic algorithms, because of the tough nature of the problem) the values of investor defined variables, then moving on to an extended risk analysis by Monte Carlo simulation to accurately (probabilistically that is) compute the implied risk of the investment. We also introduced NPV Expected Shortfall and NPV Risk Preference Index, providing a customizable metric of high informational value picturing the whole probability density function, next to demonstrating the whole process by an extended case study regarding the comparison of two renewable investment scenarios.
As a closing note, I should mention that, to me, the concept of studying the problem at hand by separating its variables to the ones you can influence and the ones you cannot, while then attempting to optimize the first set and track the total risk of the second, remains an approach of great practical -if not philosophical- value, next to its academic one. And I do hope that is of interest to you, too.
The last day of the year is a good chance to review what you did and what you didn’t, helping you shape out tangible plans for the year to come. I’ll try to do so in the lines to follow, based on the sparse 35 posts I happened to post in this blog during 2008.
So, what did I do?
- finally launched -together with Efthimios- AskMarkets and AskMarkets Services, but we’re clearly in the very beginning
- had a very poor year academic-wise, with a few minor research contributions (some others are to come up soon though), while focusing mainly on my PhD
- watched Open Coffee Greece and the local start-up community bloom, with 21+ events (including one with TechCrunch), 87+ speeches (among them Jason Calacanis) and hundreds of participants, I was happy enough to get to know tons of people, too
- teached A Course by Blog on data mining, next to a couple of lectures on prediction markets (all of them in greek, apologies), then set up DataMine.it as a start-up with my fellow students
- launched with Efthimios and Dimitris a little web service which got some serious coverage, WebSource.it that is
- set up the promising HowSocial.ru with a fantastic team within a weekend
- turned almost into a ‘parsley’ by gaining (or not) some media attention (ok, I’m joking, but to me media coverage is far from an achievement)
So, I can roughly describe 2008 as ‘a year of launches’. And that makes the target for 2009 clear. Turn launches into successes, premises into actions, potential into results. PhD included.
PS: Can’t wait, will be fun!
About a month ago, I receive an email from Business Week, stating that I was one of the about 40 nominees for the Europe’s Best Young Entrepreneur 2008 contest. That was a really pleasant surprise, asking me to reply with more information on my business, next to confirming that I am 29 years old or younger, I am the founder or manager of my company, my company has been in business for five years or less and it is a viable, revenue-producing entity, not just a business plan.
I finally wasn’t happy enough to be included among the final entrants, and to my disappointment there is only one entrant from Southern Europe, but I think my reply mail is of an almost autobiographical value you may find of interest (event it is kind of outdated one month afterwards), so I’m attaching it hereby:
first of all, I’m really thrilled of receiving such an invite and I need to thank you for this tremendous opportunity. To be honest, my first thought was that I’m just not eligible for participating (we have yet to host hundreds of thousands of users in our web service and I’m definitely not a millionaire, for the time being at least). However, giving it a second thought, I decided to tell you my humble story, you being the judge. So, here it goes.
Originally a researcher, I was interested in everything related to forecasting. I got my Diploma in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering with a thesis attempting to predict -using artificial intelligence techniques- the future stock prices in Athens stock exchange. Right after that I was self forced to continue researching the field of forecasting, starting a PhD in Operations Research (both Diploma and PhD from National Technical University of Athens).
I focused initially on machine learning and data mining (the expertise I gained from the latter one enabled me to teach a relevant course at post graduate level, all of which was made through a blog, you may find more about that here), but the attraction was almost instant when I found out about the innovative use of markets as a forecasting mechanism, the so-called ‘prediction markets’. So, I switched focus, mastering the subject while making some academic contributions and attempting to make a name in the field, to realize that my theoretical / algorithmic contributions also needed some actual implementation and a web application to be tested at (by nature, prediction markets live on the web).
At this point, I was lucky enough to met up with Efthimios Mpothos, who later on proved to be my co-founder and true soulmate. Thimios was a PhD researcher at NTUA, studying prediction markets, too (actually we probably were the only researchers on the field in Greece, yet struggling to find some time to finish up our PhD dissertations), while possessing a stronger technical background than mine. We immediately decided to join forces and scale up our targets, from an experimental application needed just for our research, to a rock solid web service and potentially the best prediction market offering around the globe.
So, we started working together in the lab, initially during the weekends, trying to simplify the concept of prediction markets as much as possible and bring its potential into the masses. And we founded AskMarkets UnLtd about one year ago, to host our work, devotion and vision.
Le me describe you the latter: Markets by their very nature bring people together, they sum up their information and transmit it through prices. We intend to bring this functionality to the masses, by enabling anyone to create a virtual market or trade in markets already created by others. You may visualize it as the concept of stock markets brought into your everyday life, as a market game or a social bet, also as a dynamic survey or the next generation of polls. But, no matter how you visualize it, the tool aggregates the opinions and knowledge of the many and transforms these into a meaningful result, more accurate than the opinions of the few experts and faster than every other decision support mechanism.
You may take a look at all these at http://askmarkets.com, which is our default marketplace and a demonstration of the potential of our services (we’re putting this out of private beta this week, so don’t expect to find that much traffic there), while we offer separate marketplaces as a paid service. An example of these is what you can find at http://techcrunch.askmarkets.com (we’re launching this marketplace for the biggest tech blog in the globe in the following week) and, while we’re still finalizing our product and we haven’t yet launched our service platform out and loud (we’re counting down to next week for that, too), we do already have some big clients from europe and america (the only name I’m allowed to tell you is ********) and income.
Apart from AskMarkets, we have also created http://websource.it, a simple tool which you may find useful, especially if you work all day editing and refining texts, plus I happened to launched yesterday another start-up, http://datamine.it, providing data mining services.
Another activity of mine which you may find of interest and related to the contest, while I do consider it as one of my most important achievements, if any, regards Open Coffee Greece. I happen to be the initiator and principal organizer of Open Coffee meetups and events in Greece, for the last one and a half year. And even if we started with virtually no interest in startups and entrepreneurship in general, we have managed to organize about 30 events countrywide (maybe the most successful Open Coffee meetings around the globe), gathering hundreds of people in each one, inviting great speakers and finally managed to create a vibrant start-up community from scratch, giving birth to a bunch of companies out of thin air. You may find more about this activity at http://opencoffee.gr, we were also privileged enough to co-host a relevant session with Jennifer Schenker of BusinessWeek at Stream 08 a few months ago in Athens.
All that said, I do apologize about the extent of this email (it looks more like an interview, rather than an one-paragraph introduction to my entrepreneurial activities after all) and I do remain at your disposal for any further information needed.
Thank you again for what is to me a great honor, at least.
I’m too exhausted to write about anything but my excitement on participating at Startup Weekend Athens, as @andrewhyde said “the biggest SUW ever organized in Europe”. We set up a fantastic team by @kcorax, @dimitristi, @netwire, @ageor and @thimios and turned a rough idea (“friendfeed counter anyone?”) conceived about an hour before the event into a solid service and valuable offering, which you may better visualize as “PeopleRank”.
So, we eventually decided to go for computing the informational value a person has across various networks, in other words her global social impact factor. And we ended up creating a number of crawlers scanning all the relevant information we can get from popular social networks, a sophisticated algorithm to take into account all that information (giving it a second thought, I may say it’s pretty close to the concept of a customized pagerank, this time with people as nodes), also a capable web interface, next to the business model and plan and service’s presentation.
I’m not that secure the social impact metric you’ll get right now won’t eventually harm our own reputation, but rest assured that our crawlers are up and running, so that the system accumulates wisdom next to storing data over time and will provide more accurate results every next time you try it.
You may find more details about the concept and its implementation in our presentation embedded below, but, no matter the details, let me say it again: It was a weekend of pure fun.
HowSocialRU Launch Presentation, Startup Weekend Athens View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: how social)
I’m more than happy to share with you that the Course via Blog has matured into a solid start-up. DataMine.it that is and our offering regards -you guessed that right- data mining services.
We put great effort on adding value to AI algorithms by spicing them up with our very human expertise, while trying to keep the whole procedure as simple as it gets and its results much more intuitive than what you may imagine. So, you may go find out more right now at datamine.it, while we can’t wait to put our hands on your precious data and I’d like to thank you in advance for your support and feedback.