The Idea Dude


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

MySpace, the Final Frontier or Space Oddity 2006

Captain's Log 2006 AD. Most people see MySpace as a social network for teenagers or early tweenies. Perhaps it started that way but any serious commentator should spend time looking through the profiles, reading the blogs and comments because like it or not with 75+ million members, it does represent a pulse of the North America (if not global) society. It is more than a playground for kids who like music. Depending on which group of friends or forum you look at, it is also the Internet's largest bar frequented by 35 year old lawyers, artests, people like you and me.

Advertisers have also jumped in, creating profiles that promote movies, products, services in a one-to-one manner. Yes, your favorite movie star and/or porn star can be your friend. It allows anyone to lay claim to a homepage and then wander around looking for friends. If you're not the promiscuous type, boldly clicking on profiles you think you like and asking them to be your friend, you'll probably still end up lonely, milling around 75 million strangers. So enter the MySpace trains, sites at which you can join and add friends, are they really your friends or just trophies so that you can show off your profile and declare I have 30,000 friends.

The secret of its success is unlike some of the social networks, it never tried to define you but rather let you define yourself as evidenced by some of the profile pages that have hideous backgrounds, loud music and illegible fonts, not unlike some teenage bedrooms. I find it extremely fascinating because it is the world's largest social experiment or the largest human ant-hill ever, but it pulsates, mutates...Darwin would have loved to be immersed in it, observing, probing, wondering what it will be in a few years time, will it mature or simply implode. It is a complex pseudo community where people take on personalities or lay bare their souls, for some these are the only friends they know. Meriam-Webster defines space as the opportunity to assert or experience one's identity or needs freely...perhaps all it needs is for someone to take Google's 3D worlds and build another virtual civilization...could it then be the next MyMatrix?

Like the classic song goes...

This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You've really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it's time to leave the capsule if you dare...
Can you hear me, Major Tom?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

What lies beneath?

The best leaders are readers of people...that's a quote from John Maxwell's latest newsletter. It strikes a resonant chord here. If you are going to build a great team, you better know each person's strengths and weaknesses, what they like doing, what they are afraid of. When I led teams I spent a lot of money on meals and coffee. It paid off handsomely because it is in that informal context you learn about your people, their dreams, their passion, their fears and what they hate the most about you and your company. Napoleon Bonaparte did the same, eating with troops.

That's probably why I've always said that once a company grows beyond 50 people it is time for me to move on. You can only interact and know so many people well at any given time. The legacy I want to leave is the knowledge that I've made a difference to people's lives and enriched their life experiences. The analogy I've always promoted is that of a mountain better know who is on the other side of the rope and you better know which part of their character you can trust and which part you can't. People hardly fail you intentionally. You will never climb that mountain if you have to keep looking back.

This week's kudos goes to Meebo, a web-based unified instant messaging solution. I saw their first blog post, I think it was September last year. I loved the honesty and enthusiasm. It was 3-4 people with high hopes and a little bit of money. At the time, I admired their courage given that IM was dominated by Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and Skype. Secretly, I hoped they would they claim to have over half a million logins a day. I hope you guys make it. I really do.

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Marketing 2.0, finding the new age beachhead

Some interesting conversations over marketing in the office this week. The consensus is that much of today's marketing efforts are traditional like press releases, banner advertising etc. While they continue to be important, we are ignoring what one of my colleagues calls Web 2.0 marketing. Essentially, it is marketing that is no longer top down, i.e. your marketing department has a budget and must spend this in proportionate amounts on radio, television and media but rather grass roots bottom up. Instead of the heavy handed approach of telling people what they should be wearing and creating and enforcing the brand, the social nature of the Internet is reversing the methodology.

Those who see this will realize the power of the people...literally. Whether it is what people are downloading from iTunes, watching on YouTube, selling on eBay or talking about in MySpace, the successful marketeer of the new age is one who is not the creative genius who concocts the slick campaign behind closed doors but the one who listens intently to the masses, watches trends and then blends his products into the social fabric in a seamless way.

Businessweek has a great article entitled, "How the masses will innovate". And it is not the case of getting masses to contribute after you've done the thinking but really about getting the masses to shape and contribute to the thinking. A similar trend is beginning to pervade in open source, i.e. to let the public help shape the idea, not merely let the people extend and maintain the idea after it is implemented. The collective IQ of the world must surely exceed that of one individual or even 100 individuals. We often talk of collective IQ but in reality most of us have egos which fight furiously and continually that we know better. That is not to say we should just do what others say. We are still masters of our destiny and responsible for our choices but a healthy dose of humility and an inquisitive ear will go a long way to ensuring that what we do will resonate in the world beyond our walls.

One of Sun Tzu's maxims is not to conquer your enemy by brute force but the consummate warrior is able to capture your enemy without them being aware as well as ensuring you do not destroy the very thing you set out to capture.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The 5 dirtiest words in management

A week later, we're pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest in our site. With minimal marketing we've had more visitors than anticipated and quite a few sign-ups. It's tough, donning the marketing hat for a geek. You have to almost have an out of the body experience, because in reality, the body you assumed is not the one you're used to in the past 40 years. Nevertheless, it's a great challenge and as I always say to my kids, don't worry about the thousand steps, just take the first one. Like most things, we have had a few hiccups but no catastrophes and I chant the words of a wise monk everyday. He said..."Even the just man falls seven times a day."

On the other side of the coin, Fast Company did an interview with Bill Joy, who helped start Sun Microsystems. The words of wisdom were "Understand the technology, even if you're in management." That to me, is a prerequisite. You simply have to be technology savy if you're leading a technical team or a technology company. Anything less means you'll be setting business goals and making sales pitches that are unrealistic and even downright impossible. Faced with poor management demands, most developers either leave, do a bad job, or take the walk of doom hoping for miracle. Yes, very much a Dilbert moment. Understanding technology and the people who develop them are both necessary ingredients because you will know whether something is feasible as a function and deliverable in the time constraints. You also get to know which developers over and underestimate allowing you to adjust properly. The most important thing of all is that you are able to make customer promises and feature requests that are realistic without taking the entire company on a death march. The 5 dirtiest words in management that will cause instant (usually silent) mutiny is...

How hard can it be?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Gentlemen, start your engines...

2 months, 2 dudes, 1 room and lots of coffee. We've finally launched our website. Of all the startups I've had the pleasure (and pain) to be involved in, this is the sweetest. No titles, no budget, no egos, just two friends on a journey into the unknown. We started with absolutely nothing but an idea and a great support group (to our investors, advisors, friends, families, our thanks to you for believing in us). I feel like the pioneer that hacked the undergrowth, cut down trees, and finally stood on the hill and watched the sun rise. The best part, there's no wasn't for the money.

The caption that came with this image was a quote from Hal Borland...

'The ultimate wisdom which deals with beginnings, remains locked in a seed. There it lies, the simplest fact of the universe and at the same time the one which calls faith rather than reason.'

We planted a seed and today it germinated...defined as the emergence of the radical (pun intended) from the shell. God willing, we'll get a couple of customers to keep the dream alive...

The only way to end this entry is with my favorite Buzz Lightyear quote...
To infinity and beyond

Monday, May 01, 2006

The frailty of the Web 2.0

These are water droplets on a spider's web. An appropriate symbolism of how the web is really very fragile. Each idea is like a droplet that tries to outshine the rest. The sticky web draws the dreamers, entrepreneurs, philosophers, builders like flies. And who is the spider, the great googly-moogly?

There's a great article on the DailyCandy, apparently wooing investors with a $100 million dollar pricetag. DailyCandy is a deliciously written periodic email to it's subscribers about dining, shopping etc. It's a social how-to newsletter that seems to impress the rich wannabees and those who already are rich but want to make sure they are in tune with what's in and what's not. The advertising is mingled with the content so it's never clear whether they are sharing or selling. A six year dream in the making, it started with 700 names on the list and is now boasting 1.2 million subscribers with city additions (sounds like Craigslist, doesn't it? albeit in a different category).

I found this an amazing story because its asset is not a website or web traffic or but an email list! If you factor in a lifetime value of each subscriber of at least $100, then maybe the price tag is not as high as you would think. As the article puts it so well...'DailyCandy's subscriber list can be taken as the Holy Grail of e-commerce: a million trendy female shoppers, begging to be spammed'. Is this Web 2.0? same modus operandi, building a community, targeted vertical, sounds like a vintage wine compared to the New Age blogs and RSS feeds. Nevertheless, the underlying principles are pretty much the same. Find a niche and make them your family.

The lesson here is that like many good things (even MySpace) success is not overnight...there used to be a dotcom maxim that said the business cycle is 2.5 - 3 years, if you don't make it then, it's another 3 year cycle. I guess what they were really saying that it takes 2-3 years to make any idea work (the norm not the exception). If you don't succeed by then, chances are you need to tweak, change or adapt your business model which essentially means you're beating a new drum. As for DailyCandy, the writer of the article sums it the best, that it has to avoid degenerating from haute couture to your average strip mall and bargain basement. Does that mean that MySpace may one day become MySlum?...