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July 2008 Archives

July 3, 2008

Yahoo's Incomprehensible Mission Statement

Just in case you wondered, from their site, here's Yahoo's mission statement:
Yahoo! powers and delights our communities of users, advertisers, and publishers - all of us united in creating indispensable experiences, and fueled by trust.

Wow. This might be the worst mission statement I've ever read - is that even correct English? WTF does any of that mean? Who exactly does the "all of us united" part refer to? Are people outside the company part of that? And the dangling modifier "and fueled by trust?" Which bit is that modifying? And what exactly is an "indispensable experience"? Is there such a thing?

Is this really the answer to "Hey, Yahoo, what is it that you do?" Crikey. If I was attending the next Yahoo stockholder meeting, just for comedy sake, I would ask Jerry Yang to read that statement and tell me what it means.

Interesting to note that this is a relatively new mission statement for the company, appearing within the last year or so. Last May, it was

To connect people to their passions, communities, and the world’s knowledge.

That statement, while a bit bland and generic, at least had the merit of being a readable sentence. Which makes it 20 times better than the current version.

Anyway, this is the reason why I think Yahoo has no brand. Even they can't tell you what they do. Not in any readable manner anyway....

July 9, 2008

A Midweek Helping of Schadenfreude

Here are two gems from the Failblog:

Plenty more where these came from if two isn't enough for you....

A Midweek Helping of Schadenfreude

Here are two gems from the Failblog:

Plenty more where these came from if two isn't enough for you....

July 10, 2008

I'm Sensing a Trend Here

NY TIMES HITS 10-YEAR LOW ON DOWNGRADE:
The stock sank 7 percent, or $1.05, to $14.01 yesterday, near its lowest point in 10 years and 77 percent off its 52-week high of $24.76. The drubbing came after Lehman Brothers analyst Craig Huber slammed the Times' shares for being too expensive, compared with Gannett and McClatchy.

Lee, Media General Stock Hammered As McClatchy is Booted From Russell 1000 :

Shares in Lee Enterprises Inc. and Media General Inc. each fell more than 9% Monday, and The McClatchy Co. suffered the indignity of being kicked off an index of the 1,000 largest publicly traded companies.

McClatchy Drops to Record Low as Deutsche Says Sell :

McClatchy Co., owner of the Miami Herald and 29 other daily newspapers, dropped to a record low on the New York Stock Exchange after Deutsche Bank AG recommended selling the stock and cut its earnings estimates. Analyst David Clark, who took over Deutsche coverage of the newspaper industry today, lowered McClatchy's rating to ``sell'' from ``hold'' and also reduced the rating on publisher Lee Enterprises Inc. to ``hold'' from ``buy.'' Clark cut their share price targets and 2008 earnings estimates, citing falling sales in the second half.

ChicagoTribune cuts about 80 news jobs:

The Chicago Tribune is eliminating about 80 editorial positions — roughly 14 percent of its newsroom staff — amid parent Tribune Company's campaign to cut costs as revenues decline.

How Low Will Gannett Go?:

The stock price of newspaper giant Gannett (GCI) has resembled a double black diamond ski slope over the past year....Gannett is in a business that will almost surely continue its decline for some time. Although quite cheap, and with a generous dividend that is safe for now, this one screams "value trap.

No clue as to why this is happening.

(All articles cited herein were found via Google News).

July 14, 2008

What Makes a Big Business These Days?

Interesting read over at Silicon Alley Insider on the slowly declining concert business, where it is adeptly noted:
The peanut gallery's advice to musicians goes something like this: Stop whining about music piracy! Go on the road and make your money there! After all, none of you make money on record sales, anyway! But what if the concert business isn't that healthy, either? Pollstar, which tracks concert sales in the U.S., says the business held flat during the first half of the year. That's supposedly a victory given the weakening economy. But the numbers are actually less encouraging: Total ticket sales dropped 5.6%, to 16.9 milllion, offset by a 5.9% price increase.

I'm not surprised by this. With the democratization of access to distribution, it actually becomes harder and harder, not easier, to gain traction among the masses. You literally have to win people over one at a time. Thus, with more and more people competing to attract the attention of others, the overall noise level increases but the amount of attention any one person or thing can attract becomes lower.

If your in the attention gathering business, like musicians are, that spells trouble. Building yourself a niche audience becomes easier, a big audience harder.

So if you're a musician, how do you become a big act? Used to be if you caught the right A&R person's ear, you'd get access to their marketing machine, compete against a handful of others for the attention of the masses (via radio, MTV, etc.) and have a good shot of making it big. Not anymore. Now you compete on YouTube and MySpace and there aint any gatekeeprs there. As a result, not many truly "big" acts break anymore. So it's really not a surprise that the concert business is suffering.

I wrote about this affect in the past and came to the conclusion that what the web needed was more taste makers, not taste measures. As anyone who has a blog will tell you, Page Rank right now is the leading determinant of attention people get on the web. And since that type of attention is not very sticky (except to Google), it does a poor job of taste making.

I guess after reading this latest article i find myself wondering if there's a more fundamental shift. Maybe its time to question whether certain industries we took for granted as being big businesses (music, media, entertainment in general?), were only big business because distribution required a gate keeper. No more gate keeper role, no more big business? Maybe. Well, other than the locator service that helps you find your way through all the noise....

July 18, 2008

Why A VC Would Abandon the Web

I read this profile of the profile on the famed venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins and really found it to be pretty non-surprising. The gist of the article is that Kleiner is no longer interested in investing in web technologies and instead focusing on cleantech and biotech. I'm acutally shocked that more VC's haven't made the same decision.

In my mind, the standard profile for a venture capital investment is an early stage company in a capital intensive business that needs cash and guidance to grow and take advantage of a large market opportunity. Think Andy Grove in the 60's needing to build a chip fabrication plant to take advantage of the growing need for semiconductors. That's a VC deal. Need big dough - but if you do it right, big returns follow.

When the web started, lots of online companies qualified as well. 10 years ago putting together any type of web site required lots of hardware, lots of bandwidth, lots of marketing spends (Super bowl ads, print ads, etc.) and lots of people. And since the web wass new, the ROI was there as well. If you create the definitive auction site, the definitive online payment system, the definitive ad network, etc., you win and big bucks follow. Again, a perfect VC investment.

But as we all know, these days times are different. Start-up costs are much less - we launched Topix (at the time, 150,000 or so topical news pages from 2,000 or so sources, continually updated) with a handful of servers. Accordingly, returns are smaller too. The winners of the web have staked their claim. Sure, there are some wins to be had, but for the most part they're smaller. Topix sold for $60M - big win for us, small for a VC.

Why do VC's need big wins? Because like everyone else, they're measured by competition. If you are a potential investor in a VC fund, the ROI on your investment amount needs to be commensurate with the risk you are taking. With the web, the lower return I mention above is commensurate with lower risk. Lower risk, lower return - well, now a VC is competing with all sort of other investment vehicles - and likely ones with better liquidity.

So what does a smart VC do? They go back to basics - back to their original model. Big costs, new markets, big upside. That's what their investors want. So Kleiner goes cleantech and biotech? Makes sense to me.

July 21, 2008

Angel Pitch Basics

A friend of mine recently asked me what needs to go into a deck for angel investors. Obviously, for friends and family rounds there's no formula. But for professional angel investors, here's what I would make sure I cover. Or, put it another way, if someone were pitching me for money, this is what I would focus on:

- team - who are you and why are you uniquely posed for success?

- basics on the product (functionality, idea, etc.)

- the development cycle (where are you, what do you need to do for 1.0, etc.)

- hiring plans (how many people do you need to hire to get to the next milestone? what areas?)

- what is the next milestone (another funding event? a launch? partnership/ sale? etc.)

- what does the $ raised buy with respect to those milestones? Are you going to be raising more? When?

- what are you spending the raised $ on? Office space? salaries? hardware? software? Marketing?

- if you are going to launch as an independent site, what's your traffic strategy? SEO? SEM? PR? Ads? How are going to execute that strategy?

- Revenue model? When does it kick in?

- Potential partners? Competitors?

- Valuation?

When you pitch an angel, often times you're really pitching "the team and the dream." But that doesn't mean that there are lots of other things people will ask you about - the lis above is my checklist.

July 22, 2008

Digg: The Hyman Roth of M&A Deals

There's that great line from Godfather 2, when someone asks Michael Corleone about Hyman Roth's health, he responds "he's been dying of the same heart attack for the past 20 years." That's how I feel about Digg - seems like they've been getting sold ever since their launch 4 years ago. Heck, I wrote a post joking about this 9 months ago.

And it continues today - the latest from TechCrunch just this afternoon:

Google’s on and off negotiations with Digg have been back on in a big way for the last six weeks, we’ve heard from multiple sources inside of Google, and the two companies are close to a deal that will bring Digg under the Google News property. The acquisition price is in the $200 million range, says one source.

Best of luck to the Digg team - the site is cool and they seem like smart, good guys. I'm just not sure what I'm going to be able to read about if they do finally sell...;)

July 25, 2008

Cuill Launches Next Week?

Today TechCrunch does a good job of analyzing Google's blogpost on the trillion page web. However, the most interesting part of the Arrington post is the teaser at the end:
Google also says 'But we’re proud to have the most comprehensive index of any search engine.' That may be true today, but it probably won’t be true next week (check back here then). Google knows that as well as we do, and that’s why they posted this today.

So what happens next week? Presumably this is a not-so-subtle reference that highly anticipated new search start-up Cuill will be launching. I saw Louis Monier from Cuill speak a few months ago and he was hammering home to the audience the fact that Cuill will have the most comprehensive index when they launch. From what I hear, their index already exceeds 100 billion pages. We've been waiting for their launch and can't wait to check out their product.

If they do launch, I think the search world is about to become a lot more interesting. The Cuill team is a hyper-competent technical group and we (obviously) think that the search market is ripe for a new player or two. If they have a bigger index than Google that delivers quality results, everyone wins: consumers get a new way to navigate the web, Google gets some competition to force innovation from it and small search start-ups get to play in a re-ignited market. :)

So here's hoping that if next week is Cuill's launch, it turns out, excuse the pun, cool for them. Team Blekko is anxious to see what they have and is rooting for them.

July 28, 2008

So Far, Pretty Cool...

As predicted here on Friday, Cuil (one L only, thank you) launched its search engine today. I'm still playing with it - and, as expected, I'm finding it useful for some queries, not so much for others.

In any event, whether you like the product or not, there is one thing that is abundantly clear from this launch: it was a complete and utter PR home run. Check out the chatter on TechMeme. It is THE story of the day. You think the world wants a second search engine??

Of course the digerati crowd chattering about a product launch is to be expected. What impressed me about this launch is that it managed to go well beyond the usual suspects. The mainstream press has been all over this. Anecdotally, I've already received a ton of email from people outside the industry who heard about the launch. These are folks in the mid-west who don't follow this industry at all, and they're being reached. Even better, not only are these guys hearing about the launch, they're actually going to the site and doing some searches. That's a big win.

Anyway, the launch has had some performance issues (to be expected given this amount of traffic), and some query results are not spot on, but search is hard and I'm sure those are on-going efforts. But for today, I say congrats Cuil on the launch - well done!

July 29, 2008

Own Your Category or Die

I'm starting to think that to succeed on the web you have to create new categories, not compete in existing ones. Once a company owns its category, it is really, really hard to unseat them. Google, eBay, Twitter, PayPal, Amazon - these are all companies that not only the market leader, but own their categories. And when I say own, I mean own- despite efforts of others, there's no real competition for any of them.

So why is that? One of the reasons is that two of the traditional ways of stealing market share - price competition and convenience - don't work online. With most things on the web being free, price competition is really a non-factor. For example, you can't undercut Google by selling search results cheaper. You can't steal market share from Craigslist by serving up free classifieds less expensively.

As for convenience, since everything on the web is only a click away making a site or service more accessible is difficult. If there is any convenience competition on the web its in the SEO/ SEM industry. Their job is to make your site more easily accessible from the #1 traffic aggregator. But, as I've said before, you can't own a category from SEO/ SEM alone.

So if you can't win by competing on price or convenience, how do you win? You have to build new categories. You can't beat eBay in auctions - they own that. But if your a smart company like StubHub, you create a new category - a ticket market with a guarantee behind it. If you want to compete with MySpace, you can't be a social network focused on music. But you can be Facebook, a social network focused on user privacy. Similar technology and functionality, but a new category.

So what if you want to beat Twitter? Or, gasp, Google? Well, it won't be by competing on their turf. You need to innovate on the existing technology and create new categories. The old ones are taken and there's no room for a number 2. The bad news is that if you don't, you'll lose. But if you do, you'll win big.

July 31, 2008

The Old Jokes Are Always the Best Ones

No, um, kidding, scientists announced that they have actually uncovered the world's oldest joke:
The world's oldest recorded joke has been traced back to 1900 BC and suggests that toilet humour was as popular with the ancients as it is today.

Full text of the joke is at the link above, along with a few others that date back 1000 years or so.

I was really surprised, I thought "horse walks into a bar and the bartender says 'why the long face?' would've shown up on the list somewhere....

About July 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Marksonland in July 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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