« August 2008 | Main | October 2008 »

September 2008 Archives

September 3, 2008

Help Wanted: UI Design

Rich tweeted this last week, figured I'd blog it as well (and post it on Craigs list). Drop me a note if you or anyone you know fits the bill:

We need some design help!

Who are we? We're Blekko, a stealth search engine created by the founders of the Open Directory Project (DMOZ) and the news search engine Topix. (And, yes, we know we need some naming help too, but we've got other folks working on that).

Who are you? You are a web design/ UI expert who:

- works in CSS and HTML

- understands the balance between usability and creativity

- has a keen eye for detail and subtlety and

- brings a fresh and creative approach to the design of a search site.

You can send us some examples of work you've done in the past and send a couple of references to boot. You are also available to work here on site (Redwood Shores) with us for a few days/ weeks / months (i.e. until the job is done) – so ability to work with a team is important.

Why is this an interesting? Well, we think everything about search is interesting, but from a design standpoint the search UI has been pretty much the same for the past 10 years. We think there are some cool ways to change that. You should too.

How will we pay you? With cold, hard cash of course. Tell us your rates.

When do we need your help? Umm, now.

How should you apply? Please email your resume to design@blekko.com and include a link or attach your online portfolio.

September 4, 2008

Help Wanted: Senior Network Engineer

Here's another help wanted ad that's going out next week. If you or anyone you know fits the bill, have them drop us a line at jobs-ops@blekko.com.
Help wanted: Senior Network Engineer

Blekko is a stealth search engine created by the founders of the Open Directory (DMOZ) and the news search engine Topix. In addition to needing a new name (we’re working on it), we need to add a top-notch network engineer to the team.

OK, first the standard stuff:

The ideal candidate will be a programming-adept network engineer to grow with our operations team. You should also have:

* Admin experience with Linux/Unix

* Programming and admin experience with network protocols

* Perl fluency

* Ability to work both in a team and as an individual

Responsibilities of the job will range from helping us architect our data centers, to working on day-to-day system stability and troubleshooting. A large fraction of your job will involve programming.

Now the good stuff:

We think this is a particularly interesting opportunity for the right person for a bunch of reasons:

• Blekko is a search engine – a more infrastructure-intensive industry does not exist. We’re not talking about managing a small cluster of 10 machines here – there’s a BIG Linux cluster involved (plus Linux desktops and Mac laptops).

• We’re a start-up, so you’d be part of a small team. Combine a small team and big cluster – yeah, it’s a pretty meaty job.

• Compensation: we’re well funded and we pay market rates, which includes both an option component and a generous benefits package.

• Cool co-workers: and we’re not just talking about the founders:

sockpuppet.png

How to apply:

Send a resume to jobs-ops@blekko.com

September 7, 2008

Presidential Poker

I'm starting to look at this Presidential race like a good game of Texas hold 'em. For a long time you had only Obama, the chip leader. If you rewind the clock only a couple of weeks to his his nomination speech in Denver, it had the air of a coronation. He had accumulated a big stack and was bullying his opponent all over the table.

The perception (which is everything) was that McCain was short-stacked and dead man walking. He was being ground down by the blinds and his tournament life was slowly fading. It was just a matter of time.

That was until McCain did what any smart poker player would do in this spot: he upped his odds and pushed all in. When he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, it was the act of a guy who needed to score a big pot if he had any chance of winning. So he gambled everything on his gunshot straight draw and hoped for the best. The interesting part is that, for now, it looks like it worked. In one move Macaain managed to:

* turned the conversation away from Obama and Bush

* energized the core Republicans (who never liked him much anyway)

* appealed to female voters - or at least took the gender issue from the democrats

* got people to actually start talking about the merits of his candidacy.

All that by playing one hand. Pretty impressive. Now imagine how things would have played out if he chose someone like Tom Ridge or Mitt Romney or another safe pick. He would've been blinded out by November. Sure those guys might be more experienced and actually make better VP's, but that doesn't matter. Politics and policy are different and right now this poker game is about politics. Losers in elections don't get a chance to govern.

Now the gamble of the all-in move is the flop, the turn and the river - i.e. the unknown cards. In this case, the unknown is the skeletons, if any, in Palin's closet. While its too soon to tell for sure, but those cards look pretty good right now too. After a week and change with every reporter in the country on the case, the only dirt that comes out is her teenager is pregnant and she got her ex brother in law fired. For a politician, I call that a pretty clean record.

Will this be enough to beat Obama? No way to tell for certain now. As a candidate who gives a great speech, he's still got a big stack in this game. And if I was a betting man, I'd wager that the stack is going to get bigger in the debates. Just the imagery of the old codger sharing the stage with the young, dynamic guy will be hard for McCain to overcome. Bob Dole had the same issue in 96 against Bill Clinton (as did Nixon with Kennedy in 1960) and couldn't overcome it.

But one things for certain, with the Palin pick, this poker game is now interesting. Thank heavens for that. Only a close game makes for an interesting spectator sport.

September 11, 2008

Soda Map

I ran across this map and thought it was interesting. It's a heat map showing where people use the term soda (yellow), pop (blue), coke (red) or something else (green) as the generic word for a soft drink.

soda.png

Not too much analysis here, I need more time to digest it...get it? Digest it? And its a map about soft drinks? Digest it? I'll be here all week - try the veal and tip your bartender.

September 14, 2008

Freaky Fish

The Anglerfish is my favorite....

September 16, 2008

Presidential Groundhog Day

Wake me up - I think I've seen this election before. The Republicans nominate someone that Democrats believe to be less than qualified for the (Vice) Presidency. Check. Democrats voice their displeasure loudly. Check. Republican candidate climbs in polls. Check. Democrats become more shrill in voicing their complaints. Check. Republican gains even more support. Check. Repeat.

In the last two elections, the net result of this was that said lesser-qualified candidate (Bush) got elected. We'll see if the same thing happens to this year's choice (Palin). But, given the history, it wouldn't surprise me. They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results each time. I'm starting to think this might apply. Why don't the Democrats learn from their mistakes?

BTW, I'm not talking about the actual candidates. Obama and Biden seem to be doing a good job staying above the fray. Which is good - that's what leaders do. It's the Obama supporters who happen to have access to the media (celebrities, pundits, reporters, etc.) that I just don't understand. We've seen this movie before - the more they publicly air their opinions about the other side, the more Americans seem to like the people they are complaining about. So this begs the question: why can't they keep their mouths shut??

Maybe the Republicans are brilliant and they knew this would happen. Maybe this is the exact scenario they had in mind in picking Palin. Kind of like an older child knowing the exact right way to bait their younger sibling into doing something dumb right when the parents are watching - and the younger sibling just can't help but fall for it.

Maybe the Karl Rove crowd knew that if the picked someone edgy for VP, Obama's people would not be able to bite their tongues. They'd moan and groan loudly and this reaction would actually propel their candidate to new heights. If so, these guys are unbelievably good - McCain is actually leading in the polls. If I told you a month ago that this would be the case, you would have called me insane.

I guess the more interesting question is whether anything can be done by Obama. It's pretty hard to tell some of your biggest financial backers that they're vocal support actually does more harm than good. And who knows if they'd listen anyway. Human nature makes it difficult for people to aknoweldge that sometimes less is more. Besides, the Republicans are really good at setting bait.

September 19, 2008

The Market Likes Communism

A few thoughts on a weird week:

1. If, for the last 5 days or so, you had been in a coma/ outer space/ wandering through the desert/ etc. you'd look at the Dow today and think nothing new: market is down a few points. In golf, when you play poorly but score well the old saying is "the only thing that counts is how many, not how." For some reason, I think in this case the how matters though.

2. Since last Sunday, the US government added AIG to its growing portfolio (Fannie, Freddie, etc.), agreed to back stop money-market mutual funds, imposed a ban on certain financial institution short sales and expanded the money lending window created in the wake of the Bear Stearns bailout. On top of that, it looks like the government may revive the RTC in order to take over the banks bad mortgage obligations. The market - which typically loathes government intervention and loves de-regulation, responds with tremendous rallies. Ironic.

3. The market/ government relationship reminds me of the teenager/ parent relationship. Teenagers most of the time want to be left alone, are impetuous, tend to over react and are at constant odds with their parents. But when push comes to shove and they get in the car accident and need some help, they always coming running home. The market is filled with people who want government out of their lives, and complain about intervention, but when push comes to shove, they too end up running home for help.

4. Parents usually figure out some sort of punishment for teens who act poorly.

5. For some reason, I'm pretty sure that if Congress feels compelled to "do something" to make sure this doesn't happen again, it'll make things worse.

6. Lehman Brothers must have some serious Jan Brady/ middle child syndrome. AIG and Bear get help and they're left hung out to dry?? Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!

7. I remember learning in my macro-econ class about the money multiplier. How you can put $100 into a bank, who then lends $90 to someone else, who then re-deposits it into the bank, who then lends $80 to someone else, and so on and so on. I guess what's been happening now is a new twist on that.

Money was lent and the paper was then securitized. The resulting securities were then used by their buyers as leverage for more borrowing - which borrowing (of course) was then securitized and collateralized by the now twice removed underlying paper- and on and on and on. Of course to be prudent in each case the risk was hedged with insurance contracts.

I don't remember learning in my macro-econ class what happens when the money multiplier contracts.

8. For some reason I have a feeling this is the first of quite a few wild weeks on wall street. I hope they all end up as well. In that case, it will be a matter of how many, not how.

September 21, 2008

Building a Brand Takes Balls

Building a brand from scratch takes balls. It means you to say "no" a lot. That's hard to do.

Whenever you start a new venture, you come up with an idea to solve a particular problem. What happens though is that lots of other people will look at your site, think about your underlying technology and deduce that its good for solving all sorts of different problems. If you want to build a brand, you have to have the guts to say no. Or abandon your original problem - you can't do both.

Topix is the perfect example. When we started we had technology that crawled thousands of news sources and categorized stories into literally hundreds of thousands of topics and locations. But the one sweet spot we found from the very beginning was local news. Sounds easy, right? Topix brand stands for local news then, right? Ha.

After our launch, we immediately started talking to lots of people. Potential partners, investors, press, etc. all marveled at our technology. And they asked the typcial questions: can we white label this on our site and use it to categorize ________? Can we tweak this to do _______? How about this market/ application? Is there an enterprise product we can make from this? Ugh.

It sounds like saying no to any/ all of these questions would be easy. But it isn't. Remember, every person who asks these question has a really big check book. Saying no to folks with big checkbooks is hard. Its especially hard when your a start-up burning cash.

What about the user you say? Didn't you focus on them? Well, yes, kind of. Users were finding us predominantly through SEO. But instead of landing on just local pages, they would find the myriad of topic pages (business, health, politics, etc.) we had. It was free traffic - how could we turn it down? Should we just shut off literally thousands of pages and the free, monetizable traffic to them? The natural reaction is to do the opposite - create more pages that you can SEO to even a more diverse set of keywords. (BTW, just one more reason why SEO is bad for brand.)

So of course we left the pages and kept the traffic/ money. The result was that the Topix brand was diluted before it even got out of the gate. It stood for so many types of news that so it ended up standing for nothing. It turns out saying no to users is actually harder than saying no to partners and investors.

The successful sites all have a single purpose. techcrunch, Drudge, YouTube, Facebook, etc. all make a clear, concise, singular promise to users. Note that there's no enterprise or white label facebook application. If I had to wager though I'd bet lots of folks asked Zuckerburg for one. He was smart and said no. Note also, that Facebook didn't make its pages open to search engines until well after its brand had been established.

The first challenge for new start-ups is deciding what it is they want to represent in the mind of the consumer (and preferably in a category not already taken). The second is having the balls to turn everyone down who wants you to be something else. The third is to make sure your brand is BLINDINGLY obvious to people who visit your site - but that's for another post....

September 23, 2008

Great Primer on Raising Money

Venture Hacks posted a great deck on their blog called "Top 10 term Sheet Hacks." If you are raising money, thinking about raising money, represent someone who is raising money, are familiar with someone raising money or are just interested in the money raising process, this is good stuff. Deck embedded below:

September 24, 2008

Congrats to Hyman Roth Digg

A couple of months ago, I compared Digg to the Godfather II character Hyman Roth. In the movie, Michael Corleone described Roth as "dying of the same heart attack for the past 20 years." In Digg's case, it seems like they've been getting sold for the past 4 years - in a deal that never actually ever happens.

Now it looks like a sale won't happen - not for quite a while anyway. According to the Digg Blog, the company just closed a round of $28.7 million round in funding, led by Highland Capital Partners. Taking a round that big takes most M&A options completely off the table.

It's now up to Digg to build a business on their own. They've got a huge audience and a good ad partner in Microsoft - so it seems like there well on their way. According to the Digg blog, the new cash will be used for "investments in infrastructure, new feature development, international expansion and hiring all the people we need to get there."

Exciting times over there. With that, I couldn't resist the temptation to break out the Hyman Roth analogy one more time and stretch it to its farthest possible limits. So, let's go back to Godfather II and listen to the wise words of Roth's right hand man Johnny Ola. Speaking of the reason for Roths longevity and success, Ola explained:

Hyman Roth always makes money for his partners. One by one, our old friends are gone.....Hyman Roth is the only one left -- because he always made money for his partners.

Sounds like a good formula. I'm sure Highland Capital Partners and others agree. In the meantime, congrats to the Digg team on the recent success. Looking forward to seeing where they take things.

September 27, 2008

The Incredible Shrinking Candidates

In 1992, Time magazine ran a cover story on George H.W. Bush titled the "Incredible Shrinking President." Obviously, this was not meant to be complimentary towards George the 1st. The gist was that H.W. Bush had lost the faith of those he was supposed to be leading, and thus was rendered powerless to lead:
He's had such a bad spell for so long that it's hard for people to believe he could do anything right. By now, when George Bush talks, a lot of people just turn down the volume.

I fear the same shrinkage is happening to our current Presidential candidates. In light of the economic issues that the country is facing, both Obama and McCain seem, well, small. When questioned about the recent failures of Wall Street, which seem to have no end, the candidates resort to the same ridiculous platitudes: "we need better regulation"; "we need to wipe out corruption and greed." Gee, thanks. No passion, no forcefulness, no sign that they even have a clue.

Listening to them, I get zero confidence that they even understand the problem, much less are in any position to come up with a solution. By the way, I'm not advocating that they give a nuanced discussion of securitized obligation, but they need to appear knowledgeable and confident. In other words, appear like they're in charge.

The job of a leader is to instill confidence and optimism in those who he leads. Take them to places they wouldn't otherwise think of going. Win over the voters hearts and minds, and they'll follow a leader anywhere. Bill Clinton was a master of this. When he was in office, no matter how many Paula Jones', Monica Lewinsky's or Ken Starr's popped up, people felt like the ship was being steered properly.

Same with Ronald Reagan. No matter how many missiles the Russians had aimed right at us, all was well. The gipper was in charge. Clinton and Reagan were guys that actually rose in the face of problems and made the problems look small. Leaders do that.

Either McCain or Obama is going to be the next President of the United States. I hope before then, one figures out a way to rise to the occasion. It's not only the best way to win the election, its the only way they'll be successful in governing.

September 30, 2008

The Heart Attack Grill

Hmmm, this place might be worth a trip to Chandler, AZ?

heartattack.png

Found via Burns' Twitter stream.

Arin posted some flickr photos of happy diners that are worth checking out too....the waitresses are nurses. Get it? Nurses? Cause it's the, you know, heart attack...oh whatever. It's funny.

About September 2008

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

August 2008 is the previous archive.

October 2008 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.33