Japanese Internet giant to push home solar

Marrying ecommerce with solar isn’t a new idea, but in Japan, the nuclear disaster in March this year has inspired one Internet giant to not only start selling solar panels online but also offering financial options.

The All-Access iPhone-Connected Thermostat

Build your energy-smart home with iPhone-compatible thermostats from Home Depot. That’s the new product from Radio Thermostat, as well as the goal of the U-SNAP Alliance, which seeks to bundle Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Z Wave, FM radio and other flavors of communications for the energy-aware home.

Build a Better Portfolio

If you want to hit 2010 running, you may well be planning to update your portfolio over the next month or so. It can be tempting to just gather together all the projects you’ve done recently and drop them into your portfolio alongside everything else, but this is unlikely to be the best approach.

Instead, take this opportunity to review your pitching strategy and shape your portfolio accordingly. Read More about Build a Better Portfolio

Can Oakland Startup Veranda Become the Apple of Solar?

Updated: Apple has developed a reputation for sleek, hip and user-friendly computers and electronics. Now, Veranda Solar, a startup based in Portland, Ore. and Oakland, Calif., developing small, easy-to-install solar-power systems, says it wants to become the Apple of consumer solar products. (Updated to reflect that the company works out of both cities.)

verandasolar_proto_pic1

How so? Instead of focusing on a new solar chemistry or production technology, the company hopes to differentiate itself with its aesthetics, appeal and ease of use, CEO Capra J’neva says. “We interact with real people to create our products, so we are reducing market risk by understanding the real needs of people who will buy [them],” she told us last week.

The Veranda Solar system “will appeal to the type of people who like Apple products,” J’neva said, though the company is also focused on the subset of those Apple aficionados who want to live a more sustainable lifestyle and do something positive for the environment. But unlike Apple, Veranda plans to offer affordable prices.

Read More about Can Oakland Startup Veranda Become the Apple of Solar?

Good Idea: How-To Videos in Home Depot

Home Depot and Avot Media are partnering up for a mobile video initiative that delivers home improvement how-to videos to your cell phone while you’re in the store.

The program is being tested with a product called Fast Attach, a device that lets you install hard-wired ceiling fans and light fixtures. Shelf displays in Home Depot provide a SMS code that shoppers can enter to receive a link that initiates a streamed instructional video showing how to install the Fast Attach.

This is a smart idea. Mobile video’s track record has been lackluster, with only 6 percent of U.S. cell phone subscribers watching mobile video in March, according to M:Metrics. How-to videos won’t move the needle on that stat, but providing relevant content (“Hey! Installing that looks easy!”) in the place where the consumer can actually take action is a perfect use for this type of video. Plus, it’s a contextual way for the advertiser to get a message across. And it potentially boosts revenue for all three parties.

The service is being rolled out across more than 100 Home Depots in Florida by June 3, and Avot hopes to extend the program to other advertisers and retailers. Grocers, food and recipes seem like another natural fit for this type of tech.

Hat tip to MediaPost.

To YC or to VC? That is my question…

I’m a repeat founder and YCombinator groupie. I’m the wrong age group to apply to YCombinator, but I’ve still learned a lot from the incubator from afar — like, the virtues of micro-loans and “entre-sumers.” This is my story.

More than a decade ago, for my first startup, I was fortunate to have found a successful but semi-retired former VC as a Board member and a mentor. As I learned more about his background, I discovered that my low-key friend was actually quite famous and had made seed investments in Sun Microsystems and a few other pioneer semiconductor and networking companies in the late-70’s to late-80’s.

One day I asked him how he managed to find these choice companies, almost all of which had become the pillars of Silicon Valley. He smiled and said, “We were lucky”.

I believed him. Many successful entrepreneurs and investors were successful because they were at the right place at the right time. It helps too that when the right opportunity presented itself, they also had the right skills, right experience, right circle of acquaintances and the right financial resources.

So I constantly ask myself, “What made him so lucky in the past?”

And more importantly, “Would I ever be so lucky in the future?” Read More about To YC or to VC? That is my question…