Tip to hiring staff when you are a startup Thursday, October 19, 2006
My colleagues and I absolutely agree with Paul Graham when he says
"We have three general suggestions about hiring: (a) don't do it if
you can avoid it, (b) pay people with equity rather than salary,
not just to save money, but because you want the kind of people who
are committed enough to prefer that, and (c) only hire people who
are either going to write code or go out and get users, because
those are the only things you need at first."
It may not be the best search engine but Ms Dewey is just a heck of a way to differentiate yourself in the search engine market place.
When making a journey, you need an accurate map Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Knowing I love history, an old work chum sent me a link to Peters Projection . This is an accurately sized map of the world - and yes, that makes it different from the representation of the world map that has been used since the mid 1500's and is the most recognisable map of the globe today.
In the same way, you should look at the 1421 website which is the evolving website that accompanies a book written by Gavin Menzies, a former British Submarine commander. It challenges our notion of who discovered what and when. It has caused major uproar as a consequence. After all, surely Captain Cook found Australia. And didn't Columbus discover America. Menzies contends not, and that the Chinese were the first to circumnavigate the world in 1421. The website is fascinating as is the evidence presented.
It's astonishing what we take for granted without realising or questioning, only to have it blow up in our face. Moreover, having a view that is contrary to accepted "wisdom", is never going easy - you may be laughed at or pilloried; ignored; dismissed. No matter, sticking to your convictions, rather than being easily swayed or keeping your head down is what makes people succeed with good ideas.
Modifying the phrase that "treason is just a matter of dates", "Good ideas are just a matter of dates" too.
"In the loop" in action with LinkedIn Tuesday, October 17, 2006
A while back I wrote about my idea for "In the Loop", whereby you would learn stuff from those you trust and which they had passively revealed. Examples would be people in my "trusted networks" disclose great plumbers they recommend; or restaurants; or books/music; blogs.
So I was delighted [well, sort of given that they've nicked my idea and not paid me royalties] to read today that LinkedIn have implemented Service Provider Recommendations
It works by people recommending service providers against particularly job/service categories and you can see those recommendations. Sadly, it doesn't seem to provide a league table of those recommendations such that several people recommending the same person ranks higher than only one - but then it may be because my networks hasn't used the new service yet so it doesn't show up.
Anyway, great to see that they are finally getting it, after all LinkedIn has never been a sticky site - or is it that
a) now that Sequoia Capital have banked Youtube they've moved onto their next portfolio asset to prep them for sale
b) LinkedIn has been inspired to "get it" and "bank it" by Youtube
The Future of Web Apps - Presentations available Monday, October 16, 2006
A collection of MP3s and presentations from the recent webapps conference is available here.
The International Herald Tribune, amongst others, is reporting on a service being delivered by mail.com and developed by outblaze that will allow emails to be converted from text-to-speech and delivered by podcast to be listened to when away from the PC.
Whilst I can see the benefits of this for people with particularly disabilities, I don't think that this is particularly beneficial to most email users. My reasons are as follows
- when listening via podcast to an email you will not be able to actually respond to the email or forward it on. So unless the email is simply an FYI, you'll still need to retrieve it
- people can read much faster than listen. Hence, unless you've got lots of time on your hands away from the PC when you can just listen to your emails, when will this be used. Moreover, if you get lots of emails and are away from the PC, why not get a blackberry or other mobile device that can receive your emails. The one obvious example where it might be useful will be for drivers with long car journeys, but see bullet one.
- much of what you listen to isn't fully absorbed. As it is, I find it easy to be distracted when listening to audio books, hence I've not gotten into them at all.
- you'll still have to scan the text version of your inbox to clean up the emails you've "read", so now you're spending even more time on email.
The same doesn't hold true for "listening" to newspapers or magazine articles - no action is required or subsequent maintenance. That's why otodio's service could take-off.
This is a handy site for creating social bookmarks Sunday, October 15, 2006
iFeedreaders has 2 tools to help you to create socialbookmarks and feedchicklets for your blog.
Workflow on the web Saturday, October 14, 2006
Check out Itensil . I quite fancy trying this out - workflow on the web. It sounds fabulous.
My weekly print read is the Economist and this week they have a section on Telcos and how after the last two failed hype waves of fibre & 3G (both costly investments with not much return, and a number of casualties), convergence is the next big theme.
The strange thing is that I don't think that telcos have any idea about appropriate consumer pricing, preferring instead to charge on a basis that is almost guaranteed to deter usage. Secondly, they make it hard to use the services. Its a view I've held for a long time and was echoed by many at the recent momo London (Mobile Monday) event. Now my comments are based on experience mainly in the UK.
For example, want to consume data via GPRS? Fine, you need to sign up to a separate data package. This has an expensive monthly charge, a piffling amount of data usage included (say 5mb per month) and a high per mb charge for additional usage. Given its hard to assess how much "data" you are consuming, most people are concerned about incurring high charges for a service they're not sure they'll use. Want to activate it via your phone - sorry, please contact the call centre and endure 20 minutes in a queue to be told in can be activated in a few weeks if you'll sign a new 12 month contract. Can't be bothered? Hardly surprising, after all until you've got it and used it, most people don't appreciate its usefulness.
Additionally the data packages always lack the things that people find useful like lots of included minutes and text in the price. T-Mobile seems to be a rare exception in the UK, bundling 75 minutes and 50mb in its tariff, but then this is available only to business users and includes no texts.
Instead, telcos could include enable data in all of their packages and devices as a matter of course, or at the very least allow activation via a SMS text. Data pricing could be capped or a flat fee for unlimited traffic, similar to broadband. They've already built the infrastructure, so have incurred the capex and fixed running costs - so removing the barriers to accessing the service will make it easier for revenues to start flowing.
Similarly Location Based Service (LBS) charging is crazy. With LBS, the telco provides details of the general proximity of a phone, and hence its' user, based on the base station/cell its' currently connected to. Depending on the concentration of base stations, their radius can extend from a few thousand metres to 10s of km as a I understand it. So the accuracy of location is not great i.e. not GPS standard. Nonetheless, many people have written about the opportunity for location related commerce - it even feature in Mission Impossible! So what do the telcos do to kick start the market - in the UK they charge 15 pence (over 25c) per location enquiry, whilst in some other markets they simply don't provide the data. Ah, but perhaps they want to offer these services as a gatekeeper. Perhaps, but the most notable offering was a feeble effort from Vodafone in the UK which offered a "Yellow Pages" lookup. Even for 4 queries per day, the monthly cost would be about £18 or a doubling of most monthly phone bills!
Why not get people used to the benefits and then do revenue deals or simply charge a flat fee for the data, bearing in mind the user has to consent to each service accessing their location data?
SMS Text messaging took off because it was made cheap and is now bundled with lots of free text included (in the US I believe most people get free SMS anyway). Broadband became popular because it was faster but also because with unlimited traffic you knew what it would cost you. I don't know the take-up numbers but I suspect that those broadband deals with only low levels of inclusive data are fast dwindling in the face of "all you can eat".
The daft thing is that the telcos bemoan the current lack of 3G traffic and data volume without seeming to appreciate that its their pricing that is the deterrent. Come on telcos, kick start the markets and start generating some revenues.
Youtube investor envy Thursday, October 12, 2006
Wouldn't it have been nice to have had the opportunity in April 2006 to put a few million dollars into Youtube to top up one's investment to $11m, only for 6 months later it to return $450m. :- (
Was it a risky investment at that stage - well Youtube could possibly have been hit by court action, but there were so few assets to sue for it wouldn't have been worth it in all likelihood. With the surging footfall on the site back in April, even then it must have looked like a very cheap investment.
Was the investor's brand credibility worth a substantial discount on the subscription price? Evidently yes, at least to Youtube, otherwise why would they have done it.
No, my spelling of the title is not incorrect. Today, Google cut Writely across to their house style, renamed it Google Docs and merged it with Google Spreadsheets. Writely, the online word processing & collaboration tool which I have been enthusiastically using for some months, had a nice UI and was easy to navigate. I know its only a few design changes, but what a backward step. Hmmmmm.
7 ways to create the publicity tide Wednesday, October 11, 2006
The Daily Telegraph in the UK today carried a story about Icesave , which is a new internet bank offering from the Icelandic Banking Group, Landsbanki. The Group, which also owns Teather & Greenwood Stockbrokers in the UK, is guaranteeing to offer 0.25% (25bp) over base rate under Oct 2009. Min deposit is £250.
This is the best rate available on a no-notice deposit account. So, you can expect a flood of price sensitive investors to quickly switch across to this account. However, rather than be ready for this wave of fickle money that will react to this news, the website simply says "coming soon". and equally funnily is that they have employed 15 people who they think will be able to cope. Bearing in mind that when ING launched their UK internet bank they had several hundred staff who got completely swamped.
Usually the hardest thing is generating the damn publicity in the first place. And not just a one-off story/comment, but a wave of news that "floats your boat" on the tide - [ok, I'm struggling to keep the theme going]. Obviously you could just do lavish advertising, but that's hellishly expensively.
So how do you do it
- Pricing - Undercut the market so dramatically that you upset the market equilibrium. Other success stories include "Talk Talk", the Carphone Warehouse venture that promise "Free Broadband Forever". Sadly, they have been too successful in attracting new customers and were unable to service them, with the result they've had to publicly apologise and release clients from contracts
- Controversy - say unconventional and outrageous things about people or products. Mark Benioff at Salesforce is a master of this, usually targeting Microsoft and Oracle. Journalists love this because it gives the some headlines, a back story and future potential for ripostes. People always remember you if you had an opinion - they may not remember what you said, just that you were someone that held strong views and who therefore may have provided them with a wry smile/entertainment OR just had the balls to say what everyone is thinking.
In some ways, Dead2.0 's blog fell into this latter category. Highly sceptical of the web 2.0 hype, the author was usually insightful and plainspoken, albeit behind a veil of anonymity. Sadly, when the person's identity was about to be revealed, Dead 2.0 went off the air, presumably because of the embarrassment that might have been caused to their employer. Most companies are fearful of causing offence to anyone - "better to be grey than to say!"
- Expert - Journalists love someone that is available at the drop of a hat to be an expert. Justin Urqhart-Stewart at fund manager "7" is superb at this role and regularly features on Sky News, Radio and the like. Fitting the stereotype of a stockbroker by wearing big red braces and a pin stripe suit, he talks just above the layman level, evidencing his superior market knowledge!
- Hitchhiker - Commenting on stories about a bigger brand will usually cause readers to look at you out of curiosity. This is different from Expert as you are declaring a subject interest, usually with a spin about what's missing/needed and which of course you silently could resolve, but without being acknowledged as an expert.
Another approach under this heading is to get a bigger company to "commission" you to do some research or work on a subject. In this scenario, big company is persuaded to allow you to do some free research about which you produce a short report/ press release which they then publish. The big company gets "independent" confirmation that its a) services are required; or b) a good company seeking to further the "discussion about the big issues". You get an endorsement from the big company who must have chosen you because of your "expertise" and skills. Their PR machine does the hard work, and your only stipulation is that the news says "Research from XXXXX, commissioned by big company today reveals......"
- Mentor - A stronger relationship than Hitchhiker is having a big company take you under its wing and apply its marketing machine for your benefit is a big result. Companies such as Microsoft will often help smaller software houses that use their technology. They do it because a) it showcases their technology b) they are seen to be nice guys helping out small companies for the benefit of mankind [sickbag please]. The news story is usually create by the big company's interest in you e.g. why did they pick you over others
- Parasite - If you can offer a service on the back of a bigger player, that provide features that otherwise wouldn't be available [hacks on an X-box or Pandora], this will often generate interest, partly out of naughty interest. "OOOhhh, they're doing something that should be possible bt the bigger player didn't provide it. Its even better if the bigger company either condemns your offering or grudgingly acknowledges its usefulness.
- Inside Buddy - If you can be best friends with some journalists and always buy them drinks in the pub, you may have a chance of getting some column inches. However, if you lack a story this tends to not be anything other than a rare blip and usually only warrants a name mention - still, thanks for the drink mate
You can't just rely on one of these strategies. In fact you must mix them up and use them at different intervals. Using one can often open up another e.g. Hitchhikers can quickly turn you into Expert. Expert can quickly become Controversy.
More importantly, all bar the pricing strategy, these usually don't cost you anything in actually dollars!
Beginners Guide to VCs & Private Equity Sunday, October 08, 2006
Whilst loading up my slidedecks on Slideshare, I found this which you might find useful as a basic intro to VCs/Private Equity/Angels.
Seems like "we're" all the rage - when I took my daughters for lunch after our regular sunday morning swim at the local pool, someone had left a copy of the financial section of the "Mail on Sunday" - it had a pull out feature on Private Equity firms prompted by the fact that a third of all prviate sector employees now work in firms owned by private equity firms! Three years ago, who'd have believed that a top hit BBC show would be about Angel investors (Dragons Den) and mass market tabloids would run big features on the industry.
Since I attended Barcamp London 06 in Sept, its astonishing how many alumni of the event I've been bumping into at other events. The chat normally involves saying how good the event was (well done Ian Forrestor and Ben Metcalfe), what we each did as a presentation and what we most enjoyed.Anyway, I realised that I hadn't posted my presentation to the blog, so here goes, again courtesy of Slideshare.
Update: "In the Loop" is a concept and doesn't exist (yet!). The design concept for presenting the trusted recommendation data came about at a geekdinner, when I was chatting to Priya Prakash (now of Digital Well Bing Labs fame) and Gil Kahana. Its also worth mentioning that since presenting about In the Loop, I've seen micro versions of these with Trustedplaces and Crowdstorm.
There's a few events coming up you may want to try
- Webwednesday at the alphabet bar, just off regent street. Wed 11th 1900h 61-63 Beak St. Fun monthly event attracting web entrepneurs
- City-zone on Thurs 12th 1800h
- NWK Beers & innovators "Aggregators & Upsetters" Tues 17th 1800h, an excellent forum of the great and the good
- Richmix , Wed 18th 1800h, as recommended by Techcrunch UK
- London Geek Dinner Friday 20th
- Werewolf night , following on from the brilliant Barcamp London & London Geek, Ian Forrestor (top bloke) is arranging an werewolf game night on Tue 31st 1900h.
I'm due to speak on Tuesday at the above conference in London. Having been involved with busyide firms in some capacity for all of my career, David Moore of Riversix, who has organised the event, thought I might have a view. However, I think he got more than he bargained for when he saw the title of my slidedeck: "Buyside Automation - An oxymoron?"
Thanks to a great new service from Slideshare , you can see the slidedeck below.
Ron Garret has an excellent piece on the Top Ten Geek Business Myths related to start-ups and getting rich.
I'm tempted to get t-shirts made up with them on and hand them out at every meeting I have with a new start-up.
Roger Enherberg has a post about Sun's CEO Jonathan Schwartz proposing to the SEC that he be allowed to issue company announcements on his personal blog. Roger, whose blog I greatly enjoy reading probably because of the huge similarities in our careers/backstory, is also COO of Monitor 110 which is soon to offer a service search and aggregating blogs to capital markets firm.
I think the issue does present some fascinating challenges similar to those being thrown up by MiFID in Europe.
Firstly fragmentation. If companies can publish, will they have to nominate their "official blog" or can any blog written by a company rep or its agent count? Without the former, I can imagine chaos could follow (how many blogs would you need to track, not to mention find to monitor a company). Equally, gaming newsflow would be easy since who can be sure that the content of blog "X" does not represent an official company announcement.
Contrast this with the Regulatory News Service (RNS), in the UK which acts as a focal point for announcements in the market. Whilst the tech enables disperate sources to be consolidated, with this method the onus is on the person announcing news to make it easy for the consumer to locate/find it, rather than for the producer by making consumers find them.
Yet oddly enough, MiFID in Europe will permit fragmentation of price formation data. In part this has followed concerted lobbying by the investment banks who are sick of Reuters/Bloomberg taking their market data for free and then reselling it back to them. Now they will be able to be a publishing source in their own right. Will this make price discovery easier or harder? Presently, I think the latter, despite knowing that tech can alleviate the burden.
Secondly, will the burden of becoming an official source, materially temper the personality of CEO blogs, which IMHO are already struggling to be "honest" v PR mouthpieces? Definitely - no more immediacy of publication; PR and Legal need to check out those posts (assuming they already don't!)
Perhaps the compromise is that it could act as a parallel outlet - thereby putting price pressure on the existing outlets that could otherwise become disintermediated with free P2P services. Might it also start disemination latency "service war", reminiscent of DMA, on who can be fastest getting information - probably.
In my opinion its a great investment Saturday, October 07, 2006
David Beisel's blog, Genuine VC, makes a succinct observation on the challenge when reviewing a new offering.
As a general reaction, I’ve found that when VCs and other non-marketing business people look at consumer-facing services offered by new startups, they often fall into one of two polar camps:
1. Overly skeptical about the ability to facilitate the adoption of a new service whatsoever. “It’s too tough to change consumer behavior” is a mantra which I’ve heard numerous times.
2. Overly positive about the chances for the adoption of a new service based on a small dataset of reactions from familiar people (like their own, their families, or the early adopter / techie TechCrunch crowd).
He's absolutely right and I've often sat in meetings where reactions fall into one of these camps. Trouble is, your own personal experiences/prejudices will always colour your view but then investment is a subjective game. Sure, the numbers & graph can provide "great insight" but until the idea/venture is exposed to real sunlight in the form of customers, it genuinely hard to be completely certain.
There are many companies whose products/services I wouldn't buy, not because the service is bad, but simply that I don't have needs/requirements that they satisfy. Yet that doesn't mean I won't be investing in them - can I envisage someone else buying the product? Who might that be and why? What do I base that judgement upon?
No one gets every investment decision right - that's part of the excitement/fear.
I've been using Newsalloy for about 5 months now, which is a free online RSS reader. Apart from an occasional outage (boy, do you miss it when its not there), it been an invaluable online reader. I've never really got on with newsgator online or others like Feedshow, albeit I import my OPML file into them as a backup plan.
I love its ease of use and the UI. Whilst it might be what you get used to, if you're a bit frustrated with what you're using today, why not give it a try.
I've just stumbled across WritetoMyBlog, which is an online [no install] tool that allows you to create, edit and submit blog posts. It remarkably feature rich and supports most of the main blogging services. Its FREE, with a slick UI and even more unusual - NO REGISTRATION REQUIRED.
I had been using a combination of Writely, native Blogger and the Google toolbar up until now. But having tried a few posts with it I am "converted" as it is so simple to use, but also has very sophisticated features you can access too.
User/submitter is a way to get your blogpost a high Digg ranking - pay people to Digg it! The submitter pays the service a fee of $20 + $1 per Digg and they in turn pay each User 50c for each 5 Diggs. As you've spotted, that's not a bad fee in the middle for the broker and hence open to be squeezed. Likewise, for the Users that's not a massive fee for the effort, particularly given the Digg interface, but then I guess to some folks its still easy money with little skill required!
As you'd expect, many folks aren't happy with the notion of people gaming the system in this manner. But then again, I seem to recall many stories suggesting about 100 users pretty much controlled what made the front page (effectively through a Digg network of promoting each other).
Certainly buying influence seems seedy and may undermine the quality of stories that may it onto the front page (may only need to spend $70-$100 which is cheap to a corporate).
Problem, is you won't know whether an article on the front page of Digg got there with or without payment and hence a shadow of mistrust may hit everyone! Of course, if you hate a story you can undigg it.
JP Rangaswami, ex Head of IT at DKW, and who led an IT revolution at that firm, has a great piece on his blog on the subject of the value of social software. He makes some great points, particularly about the challenges of valuing something where the traditional tools of the trade are hopeless.
But I was particularly drawn to this in the post
I think it was Howard Schneiderman at Monsanto who said, many years ago, something along these lines:
When you turn down a request for funding an R&D project, you are right 90% of the time. That's a far higher rate of decision accuracy than you get anywhere else, so you do it. And that's fine. Except for the 10% of the time you're wrong. When you're wrong, you lose the company.
This is the investors big fear - not that they lose the bet stake, but that they fail to back the "big one". It always feels easier to do nothing and say no to an opportunity. To make an investment is to make a positive decision which can turn out wrong and you lose your stake. But sometimes, the hope that you've found the next big thing overshadows the doubts - this is what drives many investors that give money to average or poor fund managers; belief that it might come good and they don't want to miss out.
What an excellent event!
I went along on Tuesday evening to the TUC Congress building just off Tottenham Court Road for the third of these networking events, noting the irony of a group of investors & entrepneurs meeting at Trade Union HQ - (perhaps it was going to be a trap, just like the child catcher laid in Chitty Chitty Banh Bang)
The venue was actually far too hot and the free drinks far too few in number ;- ) but that aside, the room was full of interesting people (entrepneurs and investors, distinguished by different coloured stickers) including:
- Robert Loch of Internet People
- The 23yr old owner of Glasses Direct
- The inventor of the "Egg Toaster" who appeared on Dragons Den, fluffed his demo THREE TIMES, got the money and then never heard from the Dragons again! Outrageous
- The owner of Storybook who also appeared on Dragons Den but didn't get the dosh
- The owner of Videoisland
- The co-owner of the ComedyHub, Stuart Oliver
- The owner of Paoga, Graham Sadd
- The owner of everwire, Kieran O'Neill
- Anna Graziano of Cartwrights
- Peter Bond of Otodio, who I'd also met at Momo London the previous evening
Unlike some events, everyone had gone there with the specific intent of mingling - no embarassing moments as people try to attach/detach themselves to groups. So you got to meet lots of people; hear the elevator pitch, agreed to meet again if appropriate and move on.
Loved it - well done Glasshouse. Looking forward to the next one.
Second Chance Tuesday London Sunday, October 01, 2006
Click here for Event registration at the next "Second Chance Tuesday" on Tuesday 3rd October in London, where the guest speaker is Saul Klein of Skype. The audiences tend to be a mix of VCs and entrepneurs.
Technological Winter posts about why every start up should be writing a blog about themselves, noting that some folks feel the need to operate in secret fearing that they may be copied if their idea gets out. This is a subject I've commented on before and I've recapped on my beliefs in the comments section of Roger's blog