Twitter, I think its time we had that talk …

August 17th, 2012 § 0

So Twitter, you’re getting older now and you’re starting to make some bad decisions.

I think its time we have that talk (no, not the one about where babies come from)

The talk about where REVENUE comes from

Revenue is that ever important thing that you avoid in the board meetings as you “aggressively grow your user base” and “measure social interaction”

Don’t get me wrong those buzzwords are great, and they have led you to several rounds of financing, netted you top tier investors, and helped you build one of the most impressive engineering teams in all of tech. But what those buzzwords do not do is produce dollar bills.

Here’s what will

The one thing we know you have that is truly valuable is not what you are charging for. its your DATA, millions of users give you information that they are willing to tell the world on a daily basis. This is valuable, it teaches you about people’s thoughts, feelings, moods, who they are going to vote for and you probably know really creepy things like who is more likely to get pregnant or go out and drive drunk.

My point is it may seem like its just a little microblogging site where people share what they had for dinner, but in reality they share what is important to them, and people care.

To get to the point we are at with social media today users gave up something huge. PRIVACY. It started with Facebook. The news feed at one time was a BIG deal, The pushback over it was enormous, yet here we are just a few years later and users have all but given up on privacy, people e-blast their lives for all to see.

And you, you’re a huge part of that. You’ve made it fun for people to talk about all sorts of things. This is where your data really becomes valuable.

In fact people love twitter so much they pay for “clients” to more efficiently manage their social lives. Some people simply need an experience different than the one you are providing. That does NOT mean you are somehow failing. That just means others can innovate on what you’ve built as well and you can build an eco-system around your business.

When businesses are profiting from your information there is no problem in asking for a cut.

Imagine an iphone full of apps only Apple created. Doesn’t sound too great does it? Now what about PC’s … what if Gates had not let anyone develop software for PC, Microsoft had made everything we used. Same for the Mac? The world would not be nearly as wonderful a place as it is today.

Let’s take that one step further to the web. What if google chrome only let you browse sites made by google, and Internet Explorer’s only stop on the “information superhighway” was microsoft.com?

But in fact, they did just the opposite, they went out gathering people to write software for their Computers, they went out trying to build an eco-system around their products. They realized very early on that more people developing for their platform meant more revenue for them, and they capitalized on that eco-system. Meanwhile, you’re busy trying to kill your own.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Zach, aren’t you being a bit dramatic here” but honestly that is what you’re doing! You are stifling innovation on one of my generation’s game changing inventions!

Ever since I was a child I’ve thought about ways to make money in business. My main problem with the creation of so many social sharing tech companies was always that I wondered how they would truly monetize.

People say Google has done it, they have a portfolio of free products that pays in dividends on advertising alone. And they do!

But they also provide data that is valuable and they charge for it. Their acquisition of ITA in 2010 is a wonderful example of the value add of providing travel data to startups and established companies in the travel space. This is just one of several products that generates significant revenue at the Mecca in Mountain View. This is not a coincidence.

Twitter, you now have about 175 million registered users. A fair majority of tweeters are passionate about doing so and have even built brands doing so. These users are what compels people to create twitter clients, make lots of calls to your API and keep your servers busy.

I’m sure your thought process is that keeping users on your site, viewing your ads and keeping those ads relevant is what ultimately will earn the revenue that will keep your IPO from becoming the next Facebook-sized disappointment. And you know what, you might be right!

But here’s another thought for you.

Instead of seemingly trying to force only Twitter made clients on users why not charge those who are profiting on your data for it?

Why not benefit from those who benefit from the social web? You helped create what the social web is today. You keep me more informed than my local news in most cases. Heck I got stuck at SFO during a bomb scare and found out what exactly had happened on you a full 45 minutes before any news site in the bay area had put the story on their website.

Really what I am trying to get across here is that the web is social. Twitter is a large part of innovation in the web, why not innovate the way you produce revenue on the web as well.

It just makes sense!

You have built something truly valuable. You deserve to profit from that value.

At one time Paul Graham, regarded by some as the “Godfather of Startups” was asking people to apply to YCombinator with something made on Twitter. Let’s get something straight. He was funding businesses to make money, not blow through it. If he felt businesses built on Twitter were enough to produce real revenue, why do you seem to feel as though you cannot charge for it?

Recently when someone Asked PG if that was still a valid request for startups he gave a much different answer.

“It certainly doesn’t seem as promising a territory as it used to. Not so much because it’s more dangerous as because Twitter hasn’t turned out to be a “platform” in the same sense as say iOS has.”

Why not become that platform? Now is the time to truly innovate. The ball is in your court. What’s your next move?

So you want to apply to Ycombinator …

March 29th, 2012 § 0

First of all let me start this by saying I was a member of the W2012 cycle of YC … That’s right, I said “WAS”.

Through the roughly 3 and a half months I spent either knowing I was a part of or actually attending the dinners, office hours etc. at YC I can honestly say I learned. I learned a lot.

In this blog post I will give you some tips on what to do to get noticed. What to do to get accepted. and what to do to do what I could not … FINISH.

TL;DR … just don’t bother going any further, if you lack the dedication and commitment to reading a single blog post about applying to something that will literally change your life, you simply aren’t cut out to be accepted anyhow.

1. Know your Co-founders. Know them so well that their parents would be ashamed to sit through a knowledge competition about their own child against you. This is far and away the MOST important aspect of going through YC.

Going in we thought companies never had founder problems, truth is lots of companies do, in fact it would be nearly fair to say a majority of companies do. But knowing your co-founders will resolve most of this fairly quickly and rationally. If you are thinking about applying with people you kind of know, or are casual acquaintances with just stop thinking about it. Would you get married to that semi-hot chick you’ve been on two dates with? Yea me neither. So why would you start a company with some person you get a good “vibe” from but have only met a few times or never really seen all facets of their personality.

Part of me truly wishes there were more obvious larger consequences for this. With sexual partners there are STD’s which sometimes cause people to think twice. I so often wish that business partnerships had the same obvious consequences.

The truth is the consequences of a bad business partnership are probably worse. They cause more stress and more hard feelings than most personal (or sexual) relationships ever would. You walk away and whether or not you “win or lose” does not really matter. You are emotionally battered and bruised. Nothin can compare to this feeling so unless you’ve been a part of a bad business relationship you probably won’t understand this. But if you have, just know you’re not alone, it hurts and it sucks, but others have been through this too.

2. Know your strengths and have clearly defined roles.

It’s great to have a killer idea that is going to make billions of dollars, but what is much more important than that is knowing the strengths of yourself and everyone else on your team. Ideas change, markets change, businesses change, but people … they rarely do.

So if you have the perfect team for that great new photo sharing app that everyone is surely to dump instagram for because your mom told you it was fantastic still take the time to figure out what everyone on your team is best at. Know that one person will negotiate, one person will represent the company to investors etc. if the others dont have the time or are not available. Know that one person will write the code and own it, even the code of the others who are contributing.

Truly knowing what everyone on your team’s strengths are is something that will be a great strength in the bad times. You will have a time when a trying situation comes up. You need to know who schmoozes best via email and can make up for that poorly worded comment one of you let slip in a meeting because you were working on a few hours sleep. Those little things are the ones that can make or break you. They can lose you a million bucks but they can make you a billion depending on how you recover.

3. Know your market and where you fit into it.

if you think you are going to unseat facebook as the biggest and best social network on the planet that is fine but you better damn well know why and how you plan on making that happen. You cannot simply just say you are better. you ACTUALLY have to BE BETTER.

If you’re going to start with some sort of viral marketing campaign that’s great, they work … but how are you going to retain those signups after they’ve gotten there. what is going to keep their attention and make them choose you.

Got all of that info for me? Great now condense it all into two sentences.

Yep that’s right. 2 sentences is about all you’re going to get to make your impression on YC. So they better be well formed, well thought out and you damn well be ready to defend anything you say within them.

4. Stand out

This seems like a simple concept but few people do it. You only have so many ways to make people remember you. Do it in a clever way and get noticed. For us, I bought clever domain names (it also helped that we had a rather stellar crew on our application) for others it was viral twitter campaigns.

For just about anyone applying I would recommend doing what we did. Reach out to YC founders you know and dont know. If you don’t know them try to get to know them. have a skype chat or buy them a beer. ask for a recommendation from them to pg or one of the other partners. Even if that rec is as simple as hey i met so and so and he seems like a smart guy with a good grasp on what it takes to run a company, you guys should bring them in for an interview.

Those recs go a long way with the partners and are a huge part of the reason we got the interview in the first place.

5. Be confident, not arrogant

One of my favorite phrases is “If you cannot dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with Bullshit.”

That however, will not work on YC partners. These are some of the smartest men and women you are likely to ever step into a room with and they don’t fall for tricks. If you’re the best at something then that is great, you’ve accomplished something and you should be proud to say it. But if you aren’t, just be forthcoming.

They expect you to have faults and will not exclude you because of those you disclose. The only flaws you will be punished for in life are the ones you try to hide. That holds true when applying to YC as well.

Arrogance can quickly be aligned with being an “asshole” and lets be honest, noone likes an asshole.

6. Be Committed. If you aren’t, its probably obvious

You’re doing yourself and lots of other applicants a disservice if you apply to YC and you aren’t committed to what you are doing. It’s a big part of the reason I am not re-applying this cycle.

Everyone should be 100% committed to their idea or at the least their partners and the idea of building a business with them. If you aren’t ready with or without YC to start building something great for yourself and by yourself. You aren’t really ready to apply and you should probably not waste your time or theirs.

Now, with all that said, if you’re still ready to apply then good luck!

shoot me your application if you want a fresh set of eyes to look over it ill be glad to help where I can.

If this post has made you think twice about your application it does not necessarily mean you don’t have what it takes to be a part of YC it probably just means you need to think about what exactly you are doing more clearly and be honest with yourself.

Maybe now is not the time to apply, perhaps next cycle would be better? Maybe you should get another year of experience at that programming job you just took before making the leap.

Maybe you just aren’t cut out to run a company (it takes a strange person to love this). Honestly no one knows except for you, but take your time and don’t waste theirs. Realize that what you are making is a decision that truly can affect the rest of your life, or at the very least the next few years of it.

Why something as simple as a survey could save Groupon

June 3rd, 2011 § 0

So admittedly this title is a little bit unfair, Obviously Groupon is still very much alive and it will probably be a hot stock when its recently filed for IPO hits the market in the near future, but it certainly will not be because I purchased it (nor would that make a significant effect).

In the wake of the announcement of their S-1 filing and their subsequent release of a balance sheet the blogosphere has been sent into a frenzy of “Why groupon is hemorrhaging money” and the like, so I thought I would take a different approach.

Instead of looking at how much Groupon is spending or where they could be saving or even analyzing their balance sheet at all I will make a humble suggestion that would get Groupon at LEAST one more customer (myself) and a chance at tapping markets they probably have not touched yet.

While the daily deal is a fun concept for many out there it doesn’t exactly work for a guy like me because I am not necessarily interested in what store in Shreveport, LA has cupcakes on sale today nor will I care about the offer of 20% off at Sephora next week.

BUT what if Groupon were to give me a simple survey upon signup, and (hopefully) even continue to just watch the kind of deals I have chosen to buy as a customer after I had already signed up and only sent me deals I would be interested in. Facebook has already proven that this method is effective in advertising, so why wouldn’t it work here?

I would love to know if Best Buy was offering a new plasma at 30% off or if a popular app is on sale in the “App store” (Dear Apple, App store IS a generic term, but please don’t sure me if you do not agree)

That’s actually the reason I subscribe to AppSumo and not Groupon. It’s because I want deals that are catered to ME not just anyone who lives in a 20 mile radius of the nearest tire store selling hubcaps for $25 off their usual price today.

There are several reasons I think this business model is better, but I’ll break it down into two fundamental purposes for this blog post.

1. More people are compelled to sign up if they are only getting deals that are truly relevant to them and not necessarily tied directly to their geographic region (lots of us like to travel, hell I’m sure cheap AA frequent flier miles would be a big ticket hit for a site like Groupon) it essentially allows them to reach each consumer with a more potent message, not just a “one size fits all” deal of the day.

2. It opens up to even more merchants who are probably less likely to use Groupon now because of this new found ability to provide specialized audiences. I am a geek, my friends are geeks and if I get a geeky deal of the day from groupon and post it on facebook my geeky friends are likely to follow my lead and do the same. (simple math, err reasoning, oh heck lets just call it common sense at work here) Not to mention it allows for multiple deals in every city each day opening up the already monumental revenue streams.

I’m sure this seems too simple to help to some people reading this post.

Andrew Mason may read this post one day and laugh while collecting the Billions of Dollars he is sure to be worth if Groupon’s success continues.

But its my opinion on the issue for what its worth and at face value. take it as just that.

At the end of the day I’m just one guy, raised in a middle class American family trying to slowly make my dent in the universe, this article probably won’t do that for me but maybe someone will take note and take my advice.

If there is one thing I have learned in business so far it is that there is only one way to acquire customers, And that way is one customer at a time, even if your business is Group Buying 🙂

Monetize your ideas – But not too fast!

October 7th, 2010 § 1

This post has been jumping back into my thoughts for sometime over the past few months. As a young business professional who has seen both sides of success I feel it is something that people (especially young people) should read and consider. Over the weekend I saw the movie “The Social Network” and while much of the movie was completely fiction there was at least one part in there that was true beyond a reasonable doubt. Mark Zuckerberg turned down a 1 billion dollar offer to acquire his company (facebook) while it was still in its infancy.

Now certainly Mark is the exception not the rule although one thing he did right was that he believed in his idea, and he believed in shaping facebook to his vision for the future. But perhaps most importantly, he did not let money taint his vision. Over the past few decades thousands of companies started off with bright futures only to be bought out by the companies who already ruled the market. This phenomenon is mainly because of two reasons. First, smaller companies and people just starting typically only have a limited supply of money in the beginning. Without either angel funding or investment from VC’s many of the world’s great ideas are destined to fail. Second, these small companies are often afraid if they do not sell the larger companies will simply try to become a competitor and end up winning the long term battle for customers and/or money. While that might be the case occasionally, what most great entrepreneurs know is that the first one with the idea typically wins. Zuckerberg knew that facebook had gained too much traction by clinging on to a niche market (Colleges) and running with the generation as they came into their own as professionals. Maybe he did not know how big it would become, or even that some would consider it a phenomenon, but certainly he knew that facebook was bigger than just Mark Zuckerberg.

I live my life by a quote of one of my favorite figures: Steve Jobs. He said:

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones that actually do.”

I can think of no better example of this being true than Steve himself. He founded Apple computers against all odds in the 70’s and after some initial success and doing the corporate thing (taking on investors, appointing a board of directors, etc.) he got sideways with the board of directors, and the company he started did the unthinkable. They fired him! However, Steve (After moping for a period of time I am sure) did not give up. He went on to found two highly successful companies. Pixar, which is now owned by Disney and the company responsible for creating some of the highest grossing animated films of all time. And NEXT, a company eventually acquired by Apple allowing Steve to have his job as CEO back and the Mac OSX operating system to be born.

The point to this post is that all things truly do happen for a reason. People have great ideas every day, but society is such that more often than not we believe we cannot accomplish these goals because we have our work cut out for us. Just because something is hard does not mean it is not worth it. Don’t give up on your idea or settle for an offer that will not do your ideas justice. Work for what you have, and believe in your ideas. Money is important, but if you allow money to become a side affect of what you do, instead of the end goal you will become inherently more successful.

Money might “make the world go ’round”, but without the ideas and concepts driving people to spend it we would be stuck in a miserable cycle. So I challenge you. Next time you think of a new idea or start a new business, try to monetize it, but do it in a way which is carefully planned out. Allow your ideas to conceptualize before selling them off to let someone else reap the benefits.

and by all means remember what steve said!

The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones that actually do.

Microsoft proves it’s still got it (finally!)

September 15th, 2010 § 1

Well if you are a techie like me and you have read this title and seen the date, you without a doubt realize this post is about IE9 and the official release from Microsoft. As explained in an earlier post I am a Microsoft partner and therefore have had a chance to see the enhancements in Internet Explorer 9 develop over the past weeks. I can tell you without a doubt many people I know (customers and family of mine specifically) had begun to give up hope in the idea that Microsoft could still build first-class user friendly software for the masses. Today, I believe they have proven that not only are they capable of it, but when they listen, Microsoft can truly be one of the best at delivering exactly what the people want. Internet Explorer 9 is to windows 7 what google chrome and firefox have been to OS X in the recent past. As a partner and supporter of Microsoft I obviously have a vested interest in seeing Microsoft succeed, but as a computer nut and avid techie the only interest I have for myself is seeing that I can work as effectively and efficiently as possible. Which is exactly why I had become a google chrome user some time ago. Today that may have all changed for me. With the development of IE9 I believe Microsoft has obviously taken the best ideas from the companies it shares the browser market with and merged them all into what they now believe is the best browser available. Which is why my proposition for a new IE logo would look something like this:

I’d like to start this paragraph by sharing one of my favorite quotes from Steve Jobs, a quote in which he says “Good artist copy, Great artist steal.” I am firm in the belief that Microsoft has made no bones about “stealing” the best features from the two browsers it shares the market with and blending them to create IE9. Suffice it to say unless one of those two makes a big play in their next release. There will simply be no need to switch for users who have not already. and as an avid Chrome user and development lover of Mozilla’s plugins and tools I think IE9 has a chance at being the best all-in-one browser put out to date and I will certainly give it a chance to become my choice again.

Have you seen IE9 yet? Will you give IE a shot? Are you downloading the BETA or waiting for a stable release?

Personally, I’m a tinkerer and I love BETA’s. I think they are a great chance to get exactly what YOU want in a product by simply offering constructive criticism and feedback. My suggestion to anyone whether it be a developer, home user, business user or even the casual user. Download the BETA, make suggesstions and make sure we can all get what we want in a browser. Even if you’re not a regular user of IE there is no doubt you will see the benefits of your suggesstions in releases of their competitors surely to come. Microsoft is not the only company capable of creating good software (some would argue they aren’t even in the realm of the best), and there is not another market leader who is above the theft of a good idea. So rest assured the best thing computer users can do is give feedback early and give feedback often. It’s the only way to build what is best for everyone.

You may have noticed I have completely left Safari out of this discussion (Sorry Steve) but there is good reason for that. Simply put, its just not even in the same league with the three heavy hitters, at least in my own experience, it is buggy, not developer friendly and simply put, just not a good user experience. I did not want to insult any of the three major browser companies by including a far less capable product with the likes of their own.

In conclusion I would like to congratulate Microsoft on a job well done and a step in the direction it has needed to go since the release of Windows Vista, which is back towards the people who got them here, developers, technical people and those who need usability and simplicity. When you appeal to all, everyone wins.

Welcome back to the game boys, We have missed you!

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