The Social Login, significant opportunity for LinkedIn

In the past year or two an exciting new trend has been emerging for online media – the Social Login. Users login to websites with Twitter or Facebook ID and the sites provide a more relevant experience for the user.  This works particularly well for news sites, a good example is Mashable –  users login with their social media ID and can see articles shared by connections.  Bing launched something similar a while back, Bing claims to show more relevant results based on users social media profile.

The value for the user is relatively easy to see – more relevant search results, more relevant news articles etc.  But there is significant value for the publisher as well that is not so obvious.  The publisher can increase their ad revenue sharply (some studies say 12X). Publisher can serve much more relevant ads.  Imagine you Tweeted “cant wait to get to Tahoe this winter” and then you go to Mashable and see a special offer for discounted lift tickets.  Or imagine your LinkedIn profile says “social media manager” and you see ads for Salesforce new social media tool.

It is exciting to see how this trend will play out. It is likely that Facebook, Twitter and of course Google will all try to embed their login in as many websites as possible.  But I think LinkedIn will be a big winner here. LinkedIn has unique value prop to publishers – they are the strongest professional SN (social network) .  Naturally the professional publishers (Mashable, Cnet, Barrons , The Motley Fool) will get more value out of LinkedIn than other SNs.  LinkedIn mayeb in a great position, since  it can own the professional publications and let the other three SNs  fight it over for the non professional publications (People, Kosmo etc.)

Here are couple of reasons why the Social Login makes even more sense for profesionals:

Privacy less of an issue:

Users are usually less concerned about privacy when it comes to professional info than personal info.  I would be pretty worried about Mashable knowing my FB info but I am happy to share my LinkedIn info with Mashable or anyone for that matter.

Professionals have the bigger pain point

 Are you more concerned about knowing latest news about Kim Kardashian or about the new product in your industry. If you answered the former I must say I worry about you. When in leisure mode users are not so concerned about finding the right info right away. Do users really need People.com to personalize their experience and show them more relevant info? I would think that when reading People.com personalization is not huge value add for users. They want to browse around and find random gossip.  Not the case with professional publications. I usually have 15-20 min in the morning to scan the news, I am really really concerned about publishers showing me relevant articles.

Search is perhaps the best example of why LinkedIn login works better than others. When I am in non work mode I want my searches to be relevant, if I search Bing for latest news on Europe it would be nice for Bing to pop Bulgaria news on top, even though these news are usually about ex body builders turned politicians. But really I won’t get mad if I have to take an extra effort to find the right news. Not the case with work searches . If I am at work I want the right answer much faster.  It would be great if when I search for cloud computing my search engine returns articles shared by my developer buddy Asen.  I trust Asen’s judgment  a lot more than the Bing or Google algorithm.

Well targeted ads more of a priority for B2B than B2C companies

 B2C companies are more likely to go for low CPM mass campaigns i.e the spray campaigns. For example, if Gillette launches a new razor they want get the name out to all men, they are not too concerned about further targeting. Not the case with B2B companies, they usually will not do a large branding campaign. They want to reach exact target customer e.g the CTO, the VP of marketing, etc.

I welcome different thoughts and views on the above.

Theo

Cloud an PaaS – Will Hosting companies get PaaSed behind

The cloud space is getting more and more exciting.  The valley is buzzing with cloud startups, iIt is almost impossible to go out for lunch without hearing someone on the table next to you talking about the next big cloud idea.

For people like me who grew up in the hosting industry this is super exciting time.  Thus must be how the Brazilians feel in expectation of the world cup coming to their country.

The most interesting part of the cloud is the whole PaaS movement. The Heroku acquisition certainly gave a boost to the industry. Whether the $250M was a fair price or not could certainly  be debated (and  is debated passionately especially if wine is involved).  However, the amazing growth of their customer base is undeniable.

The main value of PaaS is of course the fact that developers do not have to worry about the whole hosting layer.  Developers simply include few lines of code in their app and boom the app can be accessed via a browser.  The PaaS providers usually use one of the big Cloud providers (Amazon, Rackspace, MSFT) to host the app. But the user does not see (often could not care less) where and how the app is hosted.

If you know developers you know this is very compelling value prop for them .  Developers love developing and dealing with server management is a nuisance they would love to paas on ( pun intended :) ) .

Despite the huge Heroku exit, I think we are still in the very beginning of something very exciting. There are millions of apps still hosted on ded servers and shared hosting accounts. Large percentage of those are going the PaaS way. So what does this mean for hosting companies, does this spell doomsday? Will customer leave in droves like Brazilians fans after the loss with France?

I am optimistic! I think there is food for everyone. Some developers will go to PaaS providers like Heroku (sits on top of  AMZN cloud) and will not ever want to hear about hosting firms.  Other developers however have needs that can’t  be met by AMZN cloud hosting.  This is where hosting companies can come in with their Hybrid / Private cloud offerings with a PaaS layer on top.

I predict more and more hosting companies will be partnering up with PaaS providers and offer some kind of PaaS+ hybrid + private cloud offering.

Either way exciting times are ahead of us, go PaaS and go Brazil in 2014 , I predict PaaS will make more money than the world cup though.

Theo

Google’s castle walls, which ones are crumbling and how to knock down the rest

When Warren Buffett talks about the kind of company he invests in he often mentions “moat”.  He likes companies that have “moats” , which keep the competition away.  In business school,  instead of using “moats” they talk about “sustainable competitive advantage” , “protectable technologies”  etc. However, I like to think of the medieval castle in Lord of the Rings,  if you remember that castle had several layers of defensive walls. 

Similar to Lord of the Rings Google had many walls and is building new ones.  This post tries to examine the walls that have crumbled, ones that are still standing  and new ones being build.

  • Wall 1 ( crumbling)  The Algorithm -

 

This is the secret magic program that returns relevant results to your searches. This was a big scary wall that many competitors feared.   I remember back in my young Marketing Director days I spent years and years trying to figure out how to get on first page of Google for the term “web hosting”.  We even hired a “consultant” who almost put us out of business employing questionable tactics.  After 3 whole years  we finally succeeded.  So I can attest by three years of sweat and tears the Google algorithm was by far the best.  But no longer – both Yahoo and Microsoft have developed algorithms that are for all practical reasons are just as good.  Different test show different figures but really if there is a gap in relevancy between the engines it is quite small.  Maybe Google’s algorithm is  6% better than that of Yahoo, but will a regular user really distinguish whether a search result page is 6% more relevant? Very unlikely. Thus I feel the algorithm is no longer a wall that can protect Google’s business.

  • Wall 2 (standing but not so tall) The Brand 

 

Google is a strong brand no doubt about it. But also there is no cost to the user to switch brands.  Search is free the user has no skin in the game.  I am loyal to the Volvo brand. But I am loyal because I have skin in the game, I am putting money down, if my car breaks I can’t get to work etc.  I know that if I buy Volvo I don’t have to worry about it breaking down, loosing value etc.  I am also loyal to RedHook beer but I have very little skin in the game there. I am willing to try new beers anytime the risk is only 5 bucks and if I find a better one,  so long Red Hook. With Google it only costs me 3 seconds to try something new and hey if it works better so long Google.

Opponents would say “but folks have emotional connection to Google”.  Maybe very small sliver of the population does. In fact lets explore why people have emotional connection to brands.

  • They have skin in the game ( explained above)
  • Brand bring status symbol ( ex. Mercedes, Belvedere vodka)
  • Company is following  a cause that people identify with  ( Patagonia, Organic food brands)

 

Google doesn’t seem to fit into any of these. They do have that “no evil” stuff and the ” Google.org”. But both of these are loosing steam for once they are borderline collaborating with oppressive communist regime ( having grown up under communism you can tell I am abit touchy here) and Google.org has not been very active since the depression.

  • Wall 2 – How to knock it down 

 

Build a product that is as good or better ( MS and Yahoo are there or almost there) and give users abit of  incentive to use it.   Search has pretty nice margins why not give some of those back to the user to get them to use your engine over Google.   Microsoft has already started doing that with Cashback. Some more ideas:

 a) pay companies to encourage employees to your engine and not t Google ;

b) partner up with ISPs and give folks rebates if they use you and not Google; 

c) give charities gifts if their members use you over Google , many charities have 100K+ members.

  • Wall 3 – ( standing ) Data ingestion

 

Data ingestions is basically crawling of the web so that  the engine has the needed information in its “memory”.  Google has been so smart about this.  They have two big guns here Google analytics (GA) and Google webmaster tools.

GA is a free analytics tool – the user gets amazing data about the site traffic and Google gets tons of current information about the site.   Whenever user puts up a new page on his site GA could tell Google and Google in turn can “crawl” the site right away.  This way Google “knows” about certain pages long before Yahoo or MS crawler can make it out those pages.  I say “could because no one ( except ) Google knows how GA is being used.  But certainly the opportunity is there for  Google to use GA to improve their crawling.

Webmaster tools lets webmasters share info about structure of their site with Google.  That info makes the crawling of the site much more efficient for Google.  Both Yahoo and MS have similar products but Google is far and away more popular with the webmaster community.

This is a scary wall for competitors but there are ways to knock it down.

  • Wall 3 – How to knock it down 

 

Obvious way is to build your own Webmaster tools for your search engine. However, getting thousands of webmasters all over the world to use your tool will require serious marketing spend.  One way to get around that is to partner with hosting companies as they have direct contact with webmaster.  Again Search has nice margins why not use some of those margins to incentivize web hosting companies and webmasters to use your webmaster tools.  Perhaps hosting companies can optimize the process so user does as little as checking “yes” on  a box.  A software on the hosting server could take in customers data an automatically populate the webmasters tool for your search engine.

Third way is for competitors to go straight to the source and work with the web server software makers. The two big ones here are Apache ( open source) IIS ( part of Microsoft).  Instead of webmasters entering data manually in webmaster tools the data can be pulled directly form the web server software and send to the Search Engine.  To be honest I am not sure how one would work with Apache , not sure who would approve any partnership/ integration with a search engine.  But Apache is open source and open source is all about sharing information making the web better etc. so theoretically, whoever makes decision there should be for working with various Search Engines. 

  • Wall 4 – ( terrifying wall being built now ) Community power

 

This is the wall that should make competitors wake up in cold sweat.  This is scarier than all the other mythical creatures in Lord of the Rings.  Google is very consciously trying to use its enormous user base to improve the product.  They are allowing every day users to rate results, they are working on their Google base for shopping results, there is talk now for using experts in certain verticals (medicine)  to contribute to result pages.

This in my opinion is a real tall wall that once built will be nearly impossible to knock down.  This is the type of walls that Facebook, yelp, match.com  and Craigslist  have.  In B school they call it network effects.  It is one of the few things competitors simply cannot copy.  It works like a whirlwind, here is one scenario

Google is very smart and more and more clues are leading to the fact that they are building this wall.  Competitors need to act now and make sure they tear down the wall before it is built or better yet build the wall first.

Perseverance

Few weeks ago I read the following tweet on my super sexy smart phone. The tweet was from Sim Simeonov veteran investor and entrepreneur.

perseverance is a good strategy for success also a great strategy for slow, expensive failure?

I immediately shared it to whoever was in the car with me. Then I tried to think back in my own startup experience and see if that is true. I would actually augment the statement abit

perseverance is a good strategy for success also a great strategy for always being in a barely surviving business

In my experience if one has true perseverance it is rare that they will fail completely. But often they get to a “just getting by stage” and never really make it out of there. I saw that in several projects we started. We kept going and going ignoring the bad signs and thinking if we only work hard we will get there. But without needed capital we had few people spread super thin and as such got only small clients. These clients stayed with us bitching and complaining but they couldn’t afford anything better so had no choice.

I saw same with partners when I was running our affiliate program. Some partners would work day and night and just making enough to pay the 3 people in their office. I kept paying them every month but they simply were not delivering enough traffic to our site to make more. They kept trying to sell me into new ideas but of course I needed to see results first before I signed anything.

My philosophy is – be persistent but evaluate your skills and be realistic. If you are not getting results needed find out what you are missing. Be honest with yourself and don’t think pure hard work will makeup for what you are missing. Figure out where you can get that something. Maybe it is a mentor ; Maybe investment; Maybe you need to outsource certain functions on focus on core competencies

Theo

Disappointed by the Economist

I am a big fan of the Economist, I really think they give a fair view of events in business and finance. That is why I was shocked when I was reading the last issues ( week of thanksgiving 2009). In an article about PE/VC and Hedge funds the writer was talking about the compensation of partners in those funds. I don’t remember the exact wording but basically the article made the point that partners have no conflict of interest with investors in the fund since partners only get paid if they produce returns for investors.

How about the argument that partners get rewarded if they produce results but do not get penalized if they loose investors money and as such partners are incentivized to take on risk investors normally would not take on! There has been tons of pages written regarding that same argument since the crisis hit. Even non-finance publications have spelled this out for the non-finance reader. Have the writers of the economist just not been following the press?

Believe me I am not making the argument that PE/VC partners (LPs) are dishonest or are out for their own etc. All the partners I have worked with have been nothing but honest and very careful with their investors money.

BUT that does not mean that there is not an issue of misaligned incentives with the compensation of partners. Now some funds require partners to put in their own money into deals, which would minimize the misalignment of incentives. But the Economist does not mention that at all.

Am I missing something here? Was this just a one-off mistake that the Economist will not make anymore ?

Recession, time to cut costs, hey lets off-shore! Humm not so fast !

Economy is bad, investors are pushing you to become cash-flow positive is it time to offshore in order to cut costs? Lots of talk these days about off-shoring among the entrepreneurial circles. Since I lived and breathed the off shoring world for years I figured I would jot down few thoughts here.
• It takes 1-2 years to realize the savings – No joke, to really see the cost savings to the bottom line it takes some time. The first year you are pretty much learning trying one thing, trying one person another etc.

• Management is key – Finding capable and honest manager is always important but it is vital in an off-shoring situation. It is also much tougher on top of the usual skills needed for a manager this person will have to understand two cultures, be able to deal with all the problems common in off shoring countries (i.e bad legal system, corruption, bad infrastructure, crime etc.)

• Theft is an issue and could cost you a lot more than you saved – poorer people tend to steal more just the nature of people. Outright theft (stealing of cash and property) is rare in my opinion. However, the soft theft is rife. Most common and dangerous is employees stealing customers. Instead of providing support they establish good relations with the customer and then they start working with the customer directly charging them directly and cutting your firm out of the loop altogether.

• Wages rise quickly – we saw wages rise 15-20% per year, that directly hits your bottom line. All of a sudden the cost savings do not seem so great.

• Offshore or not good people want career prospects – the off-shoring functions are usually not very sexy – picking up phones etc. People that are good and motivated want to career progression and after 1-2 years get sick of the job. If you don’t have a road ahead for these folks you end up losing your best people.

With all that said we were actually quite successful in off shoring using Bulgaria. After we sold the company I heard some of my friends telling me that US customers would ask: “Please can I speak to someone with an accent I know they can fix the problem”. I believe the catalyst to the success was the addition of 2 -3 good managers on the ground.
Finally, I do believe the Ukraine is one place that requires a closer look for entrepreneurs who are seeking off shoring opportunities. I was very impressed by the education level of engineers I met from Ukraine and shocked by the low level of wages. Of course the problems of corruption on local and national level are there and the political instability maybe an issue. But overall I would recommend folks seriously research Ukraine.

Theo

Chicago Booth (GSB) – kudos

Kudos to the Chicago GSB ( now Booth) Polsky Entrepreneurship center folks. They have really stepped up the program. I am glad to see some strong teams in the bus plan competiton . It is also great to see the addition of more courses/ seminars with a real world focus. I am especially excited about the Entrepreneurial selling course as every entrepreneur needs to be able to sell both products and ideas both internally and externally.

Theo