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March 2010 Archives

March 1, 2010

Note to Entrpreneur's: It's Your Fault

I think one of the most important things than an entrepreneur needs to believe is that you are in control of your own destiny. It's is not a product of chance or luck. Rather, it's directly related to the smarts, savvy, effort, etc. that you put into your business. Plain and simple, success happens when you will it to happen, failure happens when you don't.

What this means is that when things don't go well, it's your fault. Didn't get that round of financing? Don't tell me the VC's are idiots or didn't "get it." You didn't pitch it right. Or you went to them too early. Or too late. VC's fund companies every day - they didn't fund your company. That's your fault. How are you going to fix it?

Same thing with customers/ users. Not getting any traction? That's your problem - not the PR firms fault, or the economy or the sales team. It's yours. You hired the PR firm - they screwed up because you let them. The sales guy didn't close because you allowed him not to. Great products with real customers are born every day - so far yours isn't one of them. That's your fault. How are you going to fix it?

The real trick is not to give the "it's my fault" attitude lip service, but to actually believe it and live it. Never let your guard down. No whispering to friends/ family that "if only so and so did this" or "if only that hadn't happened...." Always blame yourself. Its the only way your problems get solved.

March 30, 2010

5 Rules for How Start-Ups Should Work With Consultants

As both a former lawyer and a veteran of 3 start-ups (two of which I was a founder), I've been on both sides of the company/ outside-consultant table for about 20 years. Hiring, managing and actually extracting effective tangible work from consultant's sounds easy, but it isn't.

Worst case: it is a time/cash-suck that produces little to no results. Best case: you get some valuable insight/ knowledge/ perspective from an expert in a specialized field (law, PR, marketing, design, UX, etc.). Every case: you end up spending too much money.

With that, here are 5 hard and fast rules I have about consultants:

1. Don't plan on outsourcing your business decisions to them. Use consultants for the specialized knowledge they bring to the table - nothing more, nothing less. PR firms are great for PR matters - not for product design or feature development. Lawyers are great for legal advice, not exit strategy consulting or valuation exercises. Focus the consultant on what they bring to the table.

2. Usually, the best work from a consultant comes in their initial gig. The first time you hire a consultant, they are not only earning their money, but also trying to earn your respect and future business. The 2nd through n time you hire that same consultant, that is not the case.

3. Consultants are generally not a substitute for in-house talent. The way a consultant works is that they come to your office, pick your brain for a few hours, go back to their office and then two weeks later present you with the answer. The problem with this is that often times the most important part of the process is the two weeks they are completely removed. In house talent is jut that: in-house. You can chat with them, make suggestions, argue, etc. during the entire process. Usually produces a better result.

4. Consultants are a great way to manage down-side. If a project a consultant is working on screws up, it's the consultant's fault. If a project you are handling screws up, its your fault. Which sounds better?

5. Referrals are the only way to hire consultants. Everyone is motivated by a good referral. This effectively gives the refer-ee two people to answer to: you and the person that refered them. If you grab someone off of google or craiglist without any other personal connections you just eliminated 50% of the folks they answer to. Not a good idea.

I've had many good experiences with consultants - including of course all of the ones that are reading this ;) - and a few not so good ones. Remembering these rules is a good way to help insure a good experience.

March 31, 2010

Adios Y! Publisher Network, We Never Missed You

Reading about Yahoo's decision to close the doors on its publishers network really wasn't a surprise to me. What actually surprised me was why anyone signed up for this program in the first place.

When we launched Topix in 2004 Google AdSense was a God-send. Here we were, 5 guys in crap office space above a trophy shop, launching a news aggregator with 200,000+ pages/ topics - how on earth were we going to monetize these pages? Turns out this was easy - we flipped a switch, Google spidered the site, matched ads to the content and voila, we we're pulling in revenue from day one on almost all our pages.

Eventually we worked with Google to program the ads on the site ourselves via access to the xml feed of their ads - and this lifted performance tremendously. From time to time others would approach us to be our ad partner, but it never made sense to do so.

Fast forward to 2005. We sold the site to the 3 newspaper companies (Knight Ridder, Tribune and Gannett). Together we we going to cut a single deal with an ad partner for contextual ads across all of the properties of all 3 sites. Time to get serious.

So, we headed down to LA and get the full dog and pony show from Yahoo on the Publisher's network. During that meeting they proceeded to tell us that their plan was to manually match the ads to our site. Excuse me? At that point we had 400k+ pages on Topix alone. How was that going to work? And btw, isn't Yahoo supposed to be a technology company?

On top of that, we actually ran some tests with Yahoo ads. We got the xml feed of their ads and automatically programmed the ads on each of our pages exactly the same way we were doing with Google. Even copied the AdSense ad unit pixel for pixel.

Guess what? Yahoo ads performed at 20% of what Adsense did. I don't know if it was the lack of coverage, the quality of the advertiser, or maybe even the "Ads by Google" delivers a more trusted experience which leads to more clicks. Whatever, doesn't matter. Google trounced Yahoo with respect to performance.

I can't imagine our experience with the Y! publishers network was unique. That's why i was surprised that anyone would choose it over Google. Which is a shame - given the opaqueness of Adsense, some competition would be a good thing for publishers. Here's hoping Microsoft does something interesting with respect to contextual ads.

About March 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Marksonland in March 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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