Posts from August 2006

Song of The Day

Xbaginn2t
One of my more frequent commenters is Altay.  He’s an entrepreneur who was funded by Ycombinator and has been working on a startup for a while. He’s left a number of great comments and I’ve exchanged a bunch of emails with him.

When I was up at the Ycombinator event earlier this month, Altay greeted me with a CD. It turns out in addition to being an entrepreneur, he’s in a band called The Great Unknowns.

Well my goal is to make sure they aren’t The Great Unknowns for much longer, because that CD has gotten quite a bit of airtime in our house in the past week. If you like Lucinda Williams, I guarantee that you’ll like this group.

But there’s a story here.  They recorded this album in the basement of a dorm at Harvard just before Becky (the singer) moved to Georgia.  Sort of a last-hurrah thing as a band.  Then, a week after they finished the album, Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls heard it, and called to sign them to her label, Daemon Records.  Thanks to Amy and Daemon, they got all these great old-media reviews and radio play and they got to tour with the Indigo Girls. But their record came out before music blogs were the place to be.  So we are going to change that, hopefully.

Here is my favorite song on the record, called Don’t Come Home. It’s terrific.

Don’t Come Home – The Great Unknowns

If you like this as much as I do, please sign up for their mailing list as they are going to be touring in the fall.

Social Widgets


  Keepin’ It Real 
  Originally uploaded by echen™.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the MySpace music player and the YouTube video player. I believe these two "widgets" (if you can call them that) have been very significant parts of the success of those two services.

In the case of MySpace, the ability to simply click "add" when you hear a song you like and then you are broadcasting that song on your own page was pure genius. It brought the musicians to MySpace because they saw the viral aspects to music on MySpace. The more musicians came to MySpace, the more value accrued to being a member of the MySpace social network.

The founders of YouTube must have thought a lot about that trick because when they made their video player embeddable on a MySpace page, the MySpace community reacted swiftly, putting YouTube videos on their pages the way they put music on their page. They find something they like and they show it to their friends. Not a link, that’s old school, they showcase the media right their on their page.

So what can we learn from the success of these two players? Well first, there is the lesson I already referred to. People don’t want to link to media like audio and video (and photos), they want to run it right there on their own pages. They want to be the TV station, the radio station, the newspaper.

But we can also learn that the easier it is to add something the better. My gold standard is the MySpace music player. If you have the MySpace music player on your page and you find some music you like, you simply click "add" and its on your page.

Why don’t the widgets/badges I have on my blog work like that? Why can’t I click "add" on a ThisNext badge I see somewhere on the Internet and have the item I like immediately on my badge? Why can’t I click "add" on some music I find on a Streampad badge I see somewhere on the Internet and have the music added to my Streampad player? You get the idea. Immediate add is nirvana and we need to get there for this widget/badge thing to really take off.

I believe that all of the functionality we currently have in social networks is going to emerge on the Internet at large. You won’t need to be on MySpace to get a social music experience as long as you have an online identity somewhere on the net. You won’t need to be on YouTube to get a social video experience as long as you have an online identity somewhere on the Net. Actually YouTube is a lot closer to where we are going than MySpace is. YouTube is an edge feeder. MySpace is not.

But you have to spend time in these social networks to see where the Internet is headed. MySpace is the AOL for blogging. It’s where this stuff goes mainstream, but it’s not where it’s going to end up.

North Country Girl (continued)

Regular readers know that I’ve been a bit obsessed with this song of late. I’ve posted on it not once, but twice in the past week.

And so when I came upon this cover (on the HypeMachine of course) by M Ward, Conor Oberst and Jim James of My Morning Jacket (complete with the Johnny/Bob ending that I love so much), I had to post it for all of you.

North Country Girl – M Ward, Conor Oberst and Jim James – Monsters of Folk Tour – 2004

Thanks to Chromewaves for showcasing and hosting this song.

UPDATE: Justin provides a link in the comments to this post from My Old Kentucky Blog with, count ‘em, 16 different versions of this song. Thanks Justin! Now if I could just get these into one podcast, that would be fantastic.

VC Cliché of the Week

When you are driving the car, nothing is more frustrating than a back seat driver telling you what to do. It gets inside your head, makes you crazy.

Same is true of venture investing. VCs have a tendency to be back seat drivers. We like to tell the people running the companies we invest in how to do their jobs. It’s particularly true of VCs who have been operating execs before becoming VCs.

I remember the day my co-founder of Flatiron, Jerry Colonna, came back from a board meeting in Boston and told me about a conversation he had with one of his co-investors. Jerry had been a very good operating exec before becoming a VC. His co-investor told him that you either run companies or invest in them, but never to try to do both. Jerry took it to heart and became a great investor and advisor to the companies he worked with.

I was on the board of a company that will go nameless with a VC who will also go nameless who before becoming a VC had been a very sucessful entrepreneur and operating exec. He was constantly back seat driving and it drove the CEO crazy. The CEO would present a sales comp plan and the VC would tell him that he was doing it all wrong. Stuff like that. If I was the CEO, I would have been very tempted to hand him the keys to the car and tell him to drive it if he was so eager to do it.

Don’t get me wrong, I care intensely about the companies we invest in and am always obsessing about how they can do better. But I try like hell not to back seat drive.

It’s a lot about how you say things, not what you say. The most important thing is to advise not direct. Ordering entrepreneurs around won’t work. If they wanted to take orders, they’d be working at some big company taking orders from someone else. It’s also critical to soft pedal the advice. Coming from an investor, it’s going to have an impact anyway, so I find it best to say something like, "have you thought about", as opposed to "that’s not the way to do it".

I’ve learned all of this the hard way. By doing it wrong and paying the price.

Jerry’s co-investor had it right. You can either invest in companies or run them. But you can’t do both.

Exploding Messaging


  Cognitive dissonance on iChat 
  Originally uploaded by adactio.

I’ve used the word exploding to talk about the new possibilities and risks facing mediums like television and radio.

But it also applies to the world of electronic messaging. When I first went online there were two forms of electronic messaging – email and chat. Email was network centric meaning you had to be on compuserve to exchange email with a compuserve member. Chat was largely a group experience although you could always go to a private chatroom.

Fifteen years later we’ve got a myriad of choices. Email is now completely interoperable and as a result it is the big kahuna (to use martin’s words) but here are the other messaging systems I used yesterday:

Instant messaging
Text messaging
Commenting on a blog
Leaving a message/comment on a social network
Sending sitemail on myspace
Hanging out on an irc channel
Posting a link with a comment for my wife on delicious

And those are just the ones I can remember.

Most people my age (45 last week) use email, instant messaging, and to some extent text messaging.

My kids mostly use sitemail, commenting, text messaging, and instant messaging.

Jason Calacanis wrote an interesting post yesterday about the explosion of site messaging. It’s pretty clear to me that the messaging options are increasing at a more rapid pace these days than ever before.

Clearly generational factors are at work in this explosion of messaging options. Kids have different communications needs than adults.

And mobility is certainly a big factor in the popularity of texting.

But I think behavior, context, and convenience are the most significant factors in the explosion of messaging options.

People message in the manner that is most convenient and relevant to the message they want to deliver.

As a sender, I love the explosion of messaging options.

But as a recipient, I hate it.

I’ve got a ton of messaging systems to monitor these days.

I can forward all my email accounts (seven I think) to a single mailbox and I’ve been managing my email that way for a long time.

But I can’t do that with text messages, instant messages, myspace sitemail, blog comments (I do get the comments on my blog via email), comments on my various social networks, irc discussions, and postings to delicious for me.

Feeds can be a tool to manage a lot of this. I’ve been waiting for myspace to offer rss feeds of myspace comments for a while. Maybe they don’t want to lose all those page views to rss, but I doubt that’s going to happen because only 9pcnt of all internet users even know what rss is right now.

Then of course there is the question of whether I even want all of my messages consolidated in one place. I think I do, but I am not sure if my email inbox is the pace I want them consolidated.

I’ve seen a number of startups working on this problem but have yet to see one with a solution that I think is on the money for a mass audience.

If you are working on a project in this area, please let us know.

Google Office

What can I add to this discussion? I think this may be the most discussed blog story in a long time. Check out this list of links to the story on Buzztracker. That’s 68 links from yesterday alone and Buzztracker only includes the "authoritative" blogs/feeds in their index. I can’t even bring myself to wade into these links and start reading.

And this is really not a new story. We all could see this coming. Gmail, Gtalk, Gcal, Google Spreadsheet, Writely. You’d have to have your head in the sand not to see this coming. Clearly Microsoft has seen this coming, although Bill acted like he didn’t at the D conference.

So what does this mean for VCs and entrepreneuers? I think it means that Google has selected its second area of focus and that is collaborative web-based productivity apps (the first being search of course).

As much as Google is an unusual company (and it is), it will begin to have to play by the rules that large companies play by, that being organizing, planning, process, heirarchy, and focus.

So if you fear competing with Google (I am not sold on the fact that you should be), then you don’t want to be competing with them in paid search/contextual advertising or collaborative web-based productivity apps. The second category is particularly worrisome because its going to be war between Google and Microsoft and the small guys might get stepped on by some elephants.

Add to this the story of Kiko, a web-based calendaring app that was recently sold on eBay for roughtly $250k. Paul Graham, who provided the seed funding for Kiko, wrote the definitive essay on this subject and he says:

The killer, unforseen by the Kikos and
by us, was Google Calendar’s integration with Gmail.  The Kikos
can’t very well write their own Gmail to compete. While I don’t think this case implies the party’s over for web
startups, it is significant in one respect.  It seems to be the
first example of Google benefiting from the Microsoft Office effect.
In the 80s and 90s, Microsoft gradually killed off the
competitors of its individual applications by making them tightly
integrated.  Obviously this works for web apps too.

So there is good news and bad news for VCs and entrepreneurs in this story of Google deciding to focus on the productivity market. The good news is that if you are competing with Google anywhere other than search/contextual and web-based productivity apps, you may find them focused elsewhere. The bad news is if you are in the productivity space, you might want to think about a new business plan.

Update: Nice post by Chris Anderson on how you might be able to embed productivity app data from Google’s apps like you can embed videos from YouTube. I like that a lot.

A Change Is Gonna Come

For the past six years our country has been taken right, very right, to a place where we fight the war against terror in a place it didn’t start and where we clearly can’t win it, to a place where we spy on our own citizens, where we threaten to deny women the right to control their own bodies, and to a place where the all the economic growth is routed to the people already occupying the top rung on the ladder.

I have said before on this blog that the political pendulum swings in both directions. Our country swung too far left in aftermath of the new deal and the civil rights movement (both good things) and too far right in the wake of the reagan revolution. I think we are on a verge of a swing back and this front page article in today’s New York Times points out why.

wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross
domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947,
while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the
1960’s.

According to Times, Ben Bernanke warned that the unequal distribution of the economy’s spoils could
derail the trade liberalization of recent decades. Because recent
economic changes “threaten the livelihoods of some workers and the
profits of some firms,” Mr. Bernanke said, policy makers must try “to
ensure that the benefits of global economic integration are
sufficiently widely shared.”

Charles Cook, a nonpartisan political analyst sums it up:

“There are two economies out there. One has been just white hot, going great guns. Those
are the people who have benefited from globalization, technology,
greater productivity and higher corporate earnings. And then
there’s the working stiffs,’’ he added, “who just don’t feel like
they’re getting ahead despite the fact that they’re working very hard.
And there are a lot more people in that group than the other group.”

I am in the first group, "who have benefited from globalization, technology, etc" but I don’t like it one bit that our current path is screwing over the "working stiffs" and it’s time for a change and we are doing our part to make sure that change comes soon.

Last night some friends came together to do a fundraiser for two candidates for the US Senate who will help bring a needed balance to our government, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Sherrod Brown of Ohio. As much as the right would like to paint these two as "liberals", they seem like pretty pragmatic responsible people to me.

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Claire’s the Missouri state auditor and talks a lot about fiscal responsibility which used to be the strong suit of the republican party but now is clearly something the democratic party has a stronger record on. She also used to be the Jackson County Prosecutor and believes that strong law enforcement (like we just saw in the UK) is our best reponse to the war on terror instead of fighting a war in a place that had nothing to do with 9/11. Claire’s a tough customer and I like it when she gets fiesty. She’ll make a great Senator.

Img_0632
Sherrod’s a veteran congressman from Ohio who makes exactly the case that the Times article talks about. He’s for an increase in the minimum wage which is now at its lowest point on an inflation adjusted basis since it was created. He’s for full funding of No Child Left Behind, he’s for fixing Medicare Part D, and a host of other issues that really matter to the "working stiffs".

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Claire and Sherrod were joined by Rep. Tim Bishop who represents the eastern end of long island, where we did the fundraiser last night. Tim’s also a sensible progressive who wants to bring some balance to our government. Tim looks like a shoe-in to get re-elected but let’s hope Tim’s in the majority in the house next session because he’s got some really good ideas about education policy that ought to see the light of day.

Claire and Sherrod each left us with a parting thought that sticks with me today. Claire says that getting involved in politics is a patriotic activity. It shows we care about our country. If Claire and Sherrod end up in the Senate, I don’t plan on calling in any favors. I just plan on being happy that some balance has been returned to our government.

Sherrod asked us each to convince five voters to support him. I hope that I have at least five readers in Missouri and Ohio and that you all will give Claire and Sherrod a chance, and ideally your vote. Because a change is gonna come. Our country needs it. Now.

A Change Is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke

Shopcasting

I like this term – shopcasting.

It describes a way of social shopping that I think is going to start to take off on the web. I’ve been shopcasting since I started my blog with my "in heavy rotation" list of music you can buy on Amazon. You simply click on the image of the record and you are taken to amazon where you can buy the item.

But I’ve wanted to do more of that but it’s been too hard. I’ve tried a number of shoppping/product related bling on my sidebars, notably badges from Riffs and Nabbr, but they didn’t really work the way I wanted them to.

Blog_header
As you can all see, I’ve got some new bling on my sidebars (scroll down) that is showcasing items you can buy directly from the images in the badges. These are my shopcasting badges and they are powered by a company called ThisNext that was profiled on the Business 2.0 blog earlier this month.

Full disclosure, ThisNext was started by a good friend of mine, Gordon Gould. In this post, Gordon describes the vision behind ThisNext and why he and his partner Craig started the company.

Now this is not a new idea. As David Beisel outlines in this post about "badge proliferation" (sounds like a description of my blog), there are a bunch of social shopping companies out there. David explains:

Beyond the above affiliations, badges have the capability to
communicate about individuals’ relationships with products. As many
long-time readers of my blog know, I have a keen interest in “social
commerce” sites (see a post
from last December), as I have a vision where they could provide
consumers with rich social context and relevancy to the purchases which
they are making. The current crop of social shopping sites are
experimenting with badges as a way to promote their service. StyleFeeder, Wists, Nabbr, Kaboodle, Sprout Commerce (the creators of MyPickList and FavoriteThingz), and StyleHive – just to name a few – give consumers the ability to express themselves via products
in various ways. It’s a very powerful notion, especially as it
introduces the notion of monetizing these badges as forms of
advertising. It remains to be seen, however, if any of these services
can attract significant enough consumer adoption.

Exactly. It remains to be seen if any of these services can attract significant consumer adoption. But I am adopting ThisNext for a bunch of reasons, including my relationship with Gordon.

Here are the other reasons:

1 – they’ve got a nice bookmarklet that allows me to add any shopping related item I find on the Internet to ThisNext. You can see the "add to thisnext" bookmarklet in this picture of my Firefox toolbar below.

Thisnext_bookmarklet

2 – the site has a very nice user interface that is pleasing to the eye and simple to navigate.

3 – the badge creation tool (they call it shopcasting) is simple to use and apparently will be powerful enough to allow mashups (like the surfing related flickr mashup badge the right sidebar on Gordon’s blog) and style sheets (like the elegant badges on both lower sidebars on notcot).

I have created two ThisNext badges on this blog, both on the lower sidebars, roughly near my blogroll. The one on the left sidebar is controlled by me and showcases my favorite purchases of 2006.

The one on the right sidebar is for all of you, my readers. Simply post an item to ThisNext and tag it with avc and it will appear on the right sidebar badge right below my blogroll. I got this idea from notcot and I love it. I posted the first item (typepad) but the others were not from me. That’s real social shopping!

I hope you all find this new bling useful. I may convert my "in heavy rotation" and other music lists to ThisNext badges/lists as well. We’ll see.

For now, I am just happy to be shopcasting on AVC. Hopefully you’ll all join me.