Archive for May 24, 2011

Making More Women Entrepreneurs’ Stories Heard

women20150.jpgNever underestimate the power of having a good story – whether it’s to pitch potential investors or customers or whether it’s to share with other entrepreneurs. The importance of storytelling for entrepreneurs is the foundation for FounderLY, a project that I profiled back in April when it launched its platform.

FounderLY collects video interviews with entrepreneurs as part of a media project to document their stories. These interviews cover a wide range of topics and have been conducted with an amazing range of entrepreneurs at various stages of experience and success.

Zynga Close To IPO Filing, Says Report

Mark Pincus, CEO of Zynga

Image: Zynga

See Also:

Andrew Mason and Rob Solomon from Groupon

Popcorn

Paul Kedrosky


Social game giant Zynga will file for an IPO some time in the next two weeks, sources tell Kara Swisher at AllThingsD.

Zynga is one of several big social Internet companies expected to go public in the next two years, along with GroupOn and the biggest of them all, Facebook. But the success of the LinkedIn IPO last week and Yandex today may be pushing Zynga to move now while the market is hot.

The company claims 250 million users and reportedly made about $400 million on $850 million in revenue last year. It was valued at $10 billion in its last funding round, but would probably price itself higher than that. Goldman Sachs — of course — would lead the deal, according to the report.

Zynga isn’t commenting.

Fate of Data.gov Revealed; US Gov Almost Completely Drops the Ball

When the annual budgets for e-government initiatives including Data.gov were slashed by 75% last month, it didn’t look good for the tech side of transparency. Today federal CIO Vivek Kundra has adressed the fate of these e-government programs in a letter to congress: “No project will go unaffected” he said.

Data.gov, the repository for publicly available data that was promised as a platform to power software and analysis created by and for the public, will remain open. But “there will be no enhancements or other development to address needs for improvement.” According to an analysis of Kundra’s letter by the watchdog Sunlight Foundation, Data.gov may slow drastically in its efforts to both offer more data and ensure the quality of that data. Other programs, specifically the Fedspace social network for collaboration between federal employees and the Citizen Services Dashboard for reviewing the quality of federal services, will be shut down.

Not All Network Effects Are Created Equal

Part of the excitement driving LinkedIn’s IPO last week comes from investors associating social media with network effects. You know, the principle that the value of a network increases dramatically with the number of its participants. That’s the engine that drove Facebook and eBay, not to mention the public telephone network. Markets with network effects tend to have explosive growth and can end up with winner-take-all market share.

But not all effects are equal, and assessing the valuations and competitive positions of social media companies depends on knowing which network effects are actually at work and how those could play out.

First, let’s look at a few of the different network effects currently in social media:

  • Core network effect utility: There’s a difference between economies of scale and the magic of adding connections to a network. Groupon is building a user base, a sales force and relationships with thousands of merchants, but until it uses its sales data to offer personalization, targeting and other marketing programs to merchants, it won’t achieve much beyond scale. Even then, once critical mass is achieved, additional connections don’t add as much value.
  • Viral growth: LinkedIn and Facebook initially grew their networks the old-fashioned way: Users invited other users to join. Viral pass-along is a key growth driver for social commerce and games, but now services and apps can hitch a rideon existing social networks, leveling what was once a steep playing field.
  • Business model that reinforces the effects: While there are minimal network effects for its search users, there are huge ones for its advertising network. Google’s $25 billion in extremely profitable search advertising depends on attracting advertisers to its dominant search audience and insuring a liquid marketplace via bidding and enforced relevance to create an unbeatable paid search business. Plus, Google lets developers using its services and APIs tap into that revenue stream with minimal effort.
  • Participant lock-in: Technology platforms create positive business opportunities for developers. But they can also achieve customer lock-in for their originator by making those same developers dependent on APIs. End users can be locked in, too, via familiarity (e.g., the QWERTY keyboard) and data storage (e.g., contact info, photos, message repositories) that raise switching costs for members.

As illustrated in the table above, here’s how network effects are shaping competition in selected social media markets:

  • Social graph: Though there are network effects aplenty, consumers tend to belong to multiple networks (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare), meaning would-be data miners must target multiple data sources. And the industry is only just beginning to harness that collection of big data into reliable revenue streams.
  • Likes and log-in networks: Facebook was smart to hang Likes and Sign-ins off its Connect network, as each feature complements the others and assists in distribution; now LinkedIn and Google are trying to do the same. Bolting an ad network on top of those networks could provide missing revenue reinforcement.
  • Social commerce: As noted, most social commerce is more scalar than social. Without the additional services for consumers and merchants previously mentioned, single-market entry barriers and switching costs will remain low.

To read about more network effects and how those are shaping the current crop of social media companies, please see my latest Weekly Update at GigaOM Pro (subscription required).

Image courtesy of flickr user anselm

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Interview with GetAround: Revving up car sharing with an awesome app

Today at Tech Crunch Disrupt, all investors’ eyes were on GetAround, a San Francisco based company that has tapped into the market of collaborative consumption, acting like the AirBnB of car lending.

“We have over 250 million cars in America that sit parked and idle for 22 hours per day. GetAround is a new way for people to share cars. Instead of buying a car, you can rent one instantly from someone nearby and car owners can earn thousands a year by sharing,” explained Sam Zaid, the Founder and CEO of GetAround.

Zaid and his two Co-Founders, Elliot Kroo and Jessica Scorpio have been beta testing GetAround as a web app in the Bay Area for the past 3 months. Today at Disrupt, they launched their shiny iPhone app, a new mobile marketplace for peer-to-peer car sharing.

The GetAround service includes a car-kit that allows users to unlock a car just using their iPhone app. It’s a low-cost, easy-to-use device combining a keyless remote with WiFi and GPS that makes P2P car sharing hassle-free. According to Zaid, it’s the first ever device to securely share access to your car using only your smartphone.

GetAround features insurance backed by Berkshire Hathaway including 24 hour roadside assistance. Sign-up is free and easy but does require a Facebook account, which in my opinion, adds a nice security layer.

Monetization? Simple; GetAround takes 40% commission from each “car rental”. They’ve also raised $1.5 million from angels and a couple VCs and are expecting further investments in the coming weeks.

I caught up with the founders just after their presentation to check out their awesome new planet-saving startup.

If they win the startup competition tomorrow, they plan on taking Arrington for a spin in the Tesla they brought to Disrupt today. And considering moments after our interview, Arrington approached them with some rather flattering news, it’s looking like green lights from here.

Tracks Is Sort Of Like Color For Normal People

Of all the things written about the heavily funded Color, there is no denying that it’s confusing to a lot of people, at least at first. Updates have helped this a bit, but the app relies so much on technology in the background, that it almost seems as if you’re doing something wrong when you’re using it. Tracks, a new app launching today at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York, offers similar photo clusters done on the fly. But it’s much, much easier to understand.

The examples the team gives for uses range from a pub crawl with friends to a family vacation. You and the people with you (who have to be explicitly invited into a group, rather than Color’s automatic method) create picture albums on the fly. These are called Tracks. And these tracks are then viewable both in the app and on the web in a beautiful, optimized experience.

To me, the latter is something that has always interested me about Color. The idea that you can share the pictures you and your friends take clustered together onto the web. But Color does not have a good mechanism for finding those pictures unless you explicitly share them and then remember that link. Tracks makes this concept much more digestible.

Also cool is the map view, which shows the path of your Track. (Not to be confused with your Path, the other photo-sharing app.)

And Tracks smartly angle themselves towards another trend in mobile photos: physical photo books. Companies like Postagram and Keepsy have been working on this, but they leverage other sites’ photos. Tracks is an all-in-one solution.

Judge QA with Jeff Clavier, Shana Fisher, Roger Ehrenberg, Saul Hansel

JC: Do you have to use your app or Instagram?

A: Great question. We pull from photo libraries, so many of your Instagram photos are there.

JC: Other services?

A: Yeah, photos are just the beginning.

RE: What gives you the confidence that using Facebook won’t kill this?

A: Tracks is like a living ongoing experience. That’s part 1. The other part is the other members – not everyone wants this on Facebook. Right now this is just a private experience.

SH: Why no text? No captions?

A: That will come. We wanted to get something super simple out there.

SF: Do you have a login?

A: Yes

SF: I think you should test the Facebook login.

A: We tested it, but people didn’t want it.

SF: SMS?

A: Also on the roadmap.

RE: Revenue model?

A: We have a few ideas. We think brands could be big. But the initial focus is on engagement.

JC: Initial engagement will be tricky. You should learn what the others have done.

A: I completely agree. But Facebook and Twitter are lower than a personal invitation.

Ridiculous planking fad strikes Apple Stores

A new blog has sprung up showing off Apple employees ‘planking’ at Apple Stores. The Tumblr hosted blog sprang into existence about 5 days ago and has been making the rounds on Twitter. It’s worth a laugh if you’re ok with Apple geniuses having a well earned lie-down in a truly ridiculous manner after dealing with customers all day.

If you’re unfamiliar with planking, I’ll let Wikipedia fill you in:

Planking is the act of lying face down with arms to the sides of the body, in unusual public spaces and photographing it.

You can check out the Apple Store Planking blog to see more iPlankers.

Kohort Is Group Management Done Simple, Yet Robust

Groups are all the rage right now. Facebook is focusing on them. Google is thought to be focusing on them. GroupMe, Beluga, etc. The fact that so many companies are focusing on them shows a common belief that they’re extremely important. Kohort, a new service launching today at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York, believes this as well. They just believe that everyone else has failed at them so far.

One reason is that Kohort believes the grouping features for most of these services are tacked-on. With Kohort, it’s the central feature. And it goes deep.

Kohort allows for hierarchical groups, so groups can have as many subgroups as a user would like. And there are Channels — groups of groups that can be created to better organize things. Users can subscribe to these Channels based on their interests.

The best way to think about Kohort is probably Google Groups meets the more modern grouping features. In that regard, it’s a bit like the recently launched Convore, but Kohort aims to be about more than just conversations as well. With that in mind, Ning or Meetup may be closer — or, wait for it, the now defunct Google Wave.

The revenue play is to have sponsored groups and well as premium groups. But the vast majority of Kohort groups will always be free and supported by ads.

In April, Kohort raised  a large $3 million seed round from IA Ventures, RRE, and others.

Judge QA with Jeff Clavier, Shana Fisher, Roger Ehrenberg, Saul Hansel

SF: What’s the model?

A: It’s free and prosumer.

SH: From free to $99 a month is a big step.

A: If you have a group that has less than a large amount of users, it’s free.

SH: How do you compare this to Ning?

A: There are a lot of players in the space. But we have more features.

SF: Yeah a lot of competitors.

A: Again, we have a lot of features. And we made it social.

SF: How do you make it social?

A: Groups in the real world interact. But that’s tough online. Usually it’s a phone call, we give you more tools.

SH: Even though you’re freemium, is your heart with the big groups?

A: We think this serves everybody. From big groups to to small organizations.

Check Out This Beautiful Presentation About How Media Companies Can Act More Like Startups

Dan Frommer
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May 24, 2011, 5:50 PM

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10,503|


Activate Media presentation

Image: Activate

We’ve just come across this new presentation deck from Activate, the strategy and consulting firm founded by Michael Wolf (former MTV President) and Anil Dash (blogging hero and Internet expert).

It seems to be a pitch on how media companies can find growth by thinking and acting more like a startup.

It’s worth flipping through. (It’s also gorgeous and simple — the way more slide decks should look.)

Click here to start →

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Sprint: It’s Becoming the “Other Mobile Network”

Sprint CEO says no to the ATT and T-Mo merger.

Cox Communications says it plans to stop building out its wireless network according to Fierce Wireless, which published a story this afternoon citing Cox spokesman David Deliman who said the cable company will “soon” decommission its 3G network. The story noted that Cox, a cable provider, would outsource the wireless operations to Sprint.

So what happens to Cox’s AWS spectrum it is using to deploy its wireless network? Given that ATT is planing to buy T-Mobile in part because it wants to deploy its 4G LTE network in that spectrum band, I imagine Cox determined that it might better off selling some airwaves and partnering up with Sprint.

This would give Sprint yet another customer to provide 3G access for, with others being Clearwire and Comcast. Even LightSquared, the promised satellite network, could end up sharing resources and wireless towers with Sprint. This puts Sprint in a contradictory position. There are multiple companies relying on it to provide 3G coverage for their 4G or even 3G networks, while its CEO is testifying before the Senate that it will likely cease to exist if ATT succeeds in buying T-Mobile, the nation’s fourth largest carrier. The ATT buy would cement ATT and Verizon as the largest mobile operators and leave Sprint with a mere 18 percent of the nation’s subscribers.

However, as the only viable alternative to the top two players, Sprint could see its fortunes rise as other companies trying to force their way into the mobile broadband game. Plus, as it announces its 4G plans (and yes, it’s going to have to move to LTE especially since Clearwire is planning its move to LTE) it may become a key roaming partner for other operators. Sprint did once tell me it wanted to become a true wholesaler back when it was optimistic about its partnership with Clearwire, so maybe it’s dreams may finally come true as consolidation eats away at competition in the industry.

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