This Makes me Happy Part VI

July 30, 2008

Recently a few cool things have happened in the blogosphere that I’m very excited about…

Michael Arrington of TechCrunch called to the masses for a “Dead Simple Web Tablet for $200.” In short, it’s an ultra-thin touch screen the size of two hands put together that runs on (free) open source software and its expressed purpose is to provide internet access. With a device like this you could: email, IM, stream music and videos, create and edit documents using Google docs, save your work to an email or online storage account like, make VOIP phone calls using Skype or a similar service, as well as simply surf the net. Basically this device would satisfy 99.9% of a normal person’s computing needs, for only $200 and about the size of a Readers Digest. Pretty sweet right? It gets better…

The coolest part about this whole project is Arrington asked his community to build it. He will organize the project but asked for anyone who could participate in any way to include an email in the comments section of the post. Not surprisingly within 24 hours thousands of very capable and talented techies had volunteered to help with the project. Admittedly it was a bit of a marketing ploy on Arrington’s part to launch his new TechCrunchIT domain but who cares? We’re all the better for it and what if the product actually gets made?! I’ll take two

Uber-blogger Robert Scoble had an epiphany* and realized tech blogging has gotten away from its roots and become more about the “new, shiny object/feature/technology” of the day/hour/second rather than real, insightful ideas and and discussions. Case in point, this week every “respectable” tech blog has been writing about the new search engine Cuil, before that it was Facebook and the F8 conference, and before that it was Apple’s WWDC and Steve Jobs’ health (with the Microsoft/Yahoo/Icahn battle as a common thread throughout of course).

Anyone with half a brain and an elementary understanding of history could have predicted this. Consolidation occurs (to some extent) in every vertical that reaches a critical mass and it seems that tech blogging is now at that stage. Consolidation in itself isn’t all bad but it comes with a new set of obstacles (like redundant content). The point here is it’s pretty cool that Scoble is conscious of the challenges ahead and actively working to solve them.

FriendFeed became mainstream for tech geeks. It’s only a matter of time before the teenage Digg fanboys infiltrate that playground too, but for the time being it’s a place where some profound conversations are taking place (and in terms of functionality nothing like this has ever really existed before).

Seth Godin asked “Are you in the tribe?” a brilliant idea for marketing his new (marketing) book to be released this fall. He has created a private online community (or “tribe”) for marketers, leaders, and anyone else interested to connect, discuss relevant topics and work on meaningful projects – including his next book :). Tribe membership is now closed but you can check back on Seth’s blog for future openings.

Update: Scoble wrote another post on this subject today

Hello Death

July 29, 2008

An earthquake that registered 5.4 on the ricter scale just happened in Chino Hills, CA. I’m on the 10th story of an office building in Beverly Hills and our building violently swayed FEET back and forth for 1-2 minutes.

I’m not easily rattled but my hands are still shaking. Not to be overly dramatic but the feeling of utter helplessness in the future of your life is not an enviable one…

Update: I have the fortitude of a 3 year old girl. The actual earthquake only lasted 6-8 seconds but our building is (not surprisingly) on rollers as an earthquake safety measure so we “swayed” for a good 60-90 seconds. We were never in any kind of danger what-so-ever… yes mom I promise

Timely Facebook Status Update

July 29, 2008

From my friend Chris…

The Importance of Properly Indentifying the Competition

July 28, 2008

I’ve found often times the “Competition” and “Market Opportunity” portions of business plans are underdeveloped which can be a fatal mistake. To that end here are a few tips:

  1. Try to believe other people might actually be as smart as you. Chances are other people have thought of your idea but chose not to (or were unable) to pursue it. Why? Answering this question is one of the most important parts of your business plan. For example, with OleOle no one had pursued the opportunity because (1) it required a significant amount of up front capital (2) the scope was enormous (3) there was no hard evidence it would actually succeed (4) most importantly, even after everything was built the hard part began – penetrating local markets. Knowing these things allowed us to adjust our model (specifically growth strategy) accordingly.
  2. Complementary services CAN be competition. I spoke with a founder of a startup at the TechCrunch event this weekend (weird, I know), we’ll call him Matt. Matt’s product enables websites to allow users who are already signed in at any one of a number of different sites (Yahoo, Google, Facebook, etc… the list was quite impressive) to be automatically signed in on their site too. For example, if I checked my Yahoo mail and then visited OleOle I wouldn’t have to re-login at OleOle. I asked Matt about Open ID. Matt’s response was, oh no we’re compatible with them too. My thought was… so what?! Hypothetically (and I do mean hypothetically) if OpenID were to take over the entire market, there would be absolutely no use for this service… something Matt hadn’t even considered because he’s “compatible”
  3. There’s no such thing as ONLY. As in “we’re the only product of our kind” or “we’re the only ones in this space.” Yes it’s possible to create new markets and “needs” (aka wants) and strictly speaking you may be an “only”. However, you’re writing a business plan not an investor deck. The difference is the purpose of the business plan is to help you build the best business possible; the purpose of the deck is to shamelessly pump yourself. Like the saying goes – it’s okay to lie to girls but not to your friends… not that I would know. Find competition. Include it in your business plan. You might actually learn something.
  4. Completing the competition section should affect your business model/structure. It’s pretty simple. If you’ve finished evaluating the existing market and haven’t tweaked other parts of the business plan you probably haven’t dug deep enough. The tendency is to look for what you want to find – you have a brilliant idea that no one has ever thought of, it’s easy to carry out and will make millions of dollars.

Update: more support for this position here along with many other helpful tips on writing a business plan

6 Things I Learned at TechCrunch August Capital Event

July 26, 2008

Here’s what I learned at the TechCrunch party

  1. LinkedIn receives up to $75 CPM and has annual revenue “Close to Facebook.” Me: “so like 300-350 million?” Him: “uh yeah close to Facebook” (meaning 250-300 million)
  2. Facebook does in fact value itself around 4 billion (suck it Microsoft)
  3. Sponsorship booths are a waste of time and money for most companies. Plista founders unanimously agreed they received exponentially more exposure from providing free beer and cute girls to serve it… who’d a thought?
  4. Julia Allison doesn’t look nearly as good in person but her friends certainly do
  5. Internship programs can provide a large amount of high quality labor at a relatively low cost to businesses of any size. Only one of the current TechCrunch interns is not from Stanford or an Ivy League University (University of Florida)
  6. Mixx is cool and so is its founder Chris McGill. I’ve been on Mixx for almost a year and like it because it’s incredibly easy to interact with other members. Turns out that was one of the 3 key components Chris had in mind when building the site (also to provide a more personalized/targeted news experience and incorporate a Digg like user voting system)

Crazy Guy at TechCrunch Mobile Web Conference

July 25, 2008

A couple of videos I took at the TechCrunch Mobile Web Wars Roundtable.

and the saga continues…

How to Save Starbucks

July 13, 2008

Starbucks announced yesterday they will be closing 600 stores in the US in order to boost profits. This is up from the projected 100 closings announced in January of this year. Many (including company officials) are citing the slowing US economy and relatively high prices for Starbucks’ recent troubles. However these people are all overlooking the real problem – internet access.

Currently Starbucks offers T-Mobile and AT&T paid wireless services (plans ranging from approximately $10/day – $35/month*) which is ridiculous. Although there have been reports of Starbucks changing this policy (possibly offering the first 2 hours free) they still fall short of what needs to be done.

Starbucks should offer free WiFi internet for customers at all locations.

With slightly over 15,000 stores world wide, even at an additional cost of $250/month/store (which is a very high number) the service only adds 3.75 million dollars to Starbucks’ operating cost, about .038% of their 2007 Revenue.

Obviously this isn’t the way to determine whether a program such as I have suggested would be profitable (presumably you’d take the profit margins on all products and multiply that by the anticipated increase in their respective sales).

My point is simply that internet access is one of the most, if not the most, important points of competition for coffee stores today. That said, with offering free internet access being such a small financial risk (relatively speaking), why the hell does Starbucks charge their customers absurdly high prices to use the internet and then wonder why business is slowing?

*Commenter Fazk notes Starbucks in certain countries do offer free WiFi so this doesn’t apply to all 15,000 stores.  You can follow our discussion in the comments section