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Social Messaging? Blogs? Facebook? Twitter!

December 16, 2008 Leave a comment

Over the last couple of months, to the neglect of this blog, I’ve become quite addicted to Twitter. Like I originally did with blogs, I cursed Twitter because I didn’t see the point of it. Well I must admit that I regret not getting on Twitter sooner.

As I eventually learned a blog is an essential business tool and one that generates all my business, well that was until Twitter. Twitter is a social messaging/notification service that allows you to text updates on what you’re doing right now. You know that one little status section of Facebook that asks you what you’re doing right now? That’s Twitter and it’s phenomenal. Twitter only allows you to send 140 characters at a time but it’s amazing how much information you can learn from brevity. 

In my opinion Twitter has become the best tool for networking with people, connecting with information, marketing and most importantly getting people to talk about whatever topic you’re talking about. These days I have two Twitter accounts. My business is @TOKiBiz and the one I’m most amazed by is @BostonTweet.

@BostonTweet, in conjunction with BostonTweet.com, broadcasts real time Twitter updates about what’s happening right now at Boston restaurants, bars and music venues. @BostonTweet is very focused on local Boston business, which  makes people passionate about voicing their Boston restaurant recommendations. What Twitter does, that blogs and Facebook don’t do (or at least as well), is to get people to think about topics and contribute to the discussion in real time. What amazes me about BostonTweet is people are very passionate about their favorite local people, places and things – I know I am! So when you pose a question about what’s your favorite Thai Food restaurant we all immediately chime in with our vote. This puts the restaurant fresh on our mind and for me makes me want to visit that establishment ASAP. I know I’ve already visited a few new spots based on these recommendations and I’m sure (out of 550 followers) I’m not the only one  – businesses need to get in on the Tweet! I’m definitely going to J. Pace & Son in the North End very soon!!

In my opinion Twitter has become more valuable for business than blogs and Facebook. Blogs are terrific for when you want to be verbose on a topic that you’re passionate about but blogs can no longer beat the immediate influence that Twitter has. Maybe it’s that we can no longer process anything more than 140 characters or 30 seconds of video but those are the influencers and if business wants to survive then they need to embrace that. My buddy at EaT in Portland, Oregon just yesterday asked me if he should spend money on having a website for his new restaurant. I said no way! Create a blog, register with Twitter, and then send updates from your cell phone (while at the restaurant) about what’s happening RIGHT NOW at EaT. With a simple line of code you can notify your followers and update your blog & website with fresh content that will immediately be indexed on the search engines. Your typical portfolio, online brochure website is no longer effective in generating business for offline companies. Sure it’s nice to have an online menu but in most cases it’s not going to generate new business and it’s definitely not going to get people talking. Twitter can!

If you’re an offline business (restaurant, bar, cafe, shop) then you know that word of mouth is your most valuable form of marketing – recommendations from loyal customers. This is what Twitter does for your business and you need to get on board to get people talking and thinking about your business. Blogs and websites are you talking to your customers, which is of course important, but Twitter gets your customers talking. 

As for Facebook I use to think that it was good for marketing but I no longer believe that to be true. Facebook is phenomenal for connecting with former classmates and I owe Mark Zuckerberg a lot of thanks for connecting me with my former St. Martin de Porres (Poughkeepsie, NY) classmates – I don’t know how Classmates.com is still in business. However, as a marketing & networking tool Facebook isn’t as effective as Twitter. In my opinion Facebook’s revenues (or lack of) prove that. Of course Twitter is also trying to figure out their revenue model, maybe someday it will be a necessary utility like the telephone, but in the simplest terms Twitter is an advertising model in itself. Not in the form of banners but in the form of valuable information that’s not clogged with a bunch of spam and excessive text. If you don’t like what someone’s dishing then you just un-follow that person – problem solved. Wouldn’t it be nice if email was like this?

Web 2.No More? From Web 2.0 to Web 3.0

November 16, 2008 3 comments

The recent market fiasco has everyone wondering whether Web 2.0 is alive or dead? The technology is indeed still alive (and advancing) but the focus is changing towards Web 3.0.

When the internet bubble burst in the early 2000s it acted as the dividing line between Web 1.0 (the original web) and Web 2.0. Web 2.0 didn’t commence the day after the bubble burst but rather it evolved over time with the rise of search, social networking, blogs, online videos and user generated content. Whereas Web 1.0 was about putting offline information (books, news, brochures) online, Web 2.0 is about sharing that information via social networks, blogs, online video, social messaging, etc. Web 3.0 will evolve with the integration of all this information into deeper analytical studies of online (and human) interaction, consumption behaviors & consumer data. A move more towards the semantic web.

Not only do I think that Web 3.0 will be about the quantifying of Web 2.0’s user generated data but I believe the focus (of web applications) will change.

In business, they’ll take a more active role in utilizing social networks and messaging platforms to communication with clients. This online interaction is efficient, effective and measurable, which provides corporations with analytical interaction to quantify and measure customer feedback like never before. The web has been evolving in this direction but the recent economic mess will force firms to embrace this technology now. The need to cut costs and be more accountable will propel the web towards Web 3.0 much faster than anticipated. 

The second main change from Web 2.0 to 3.0 will be about focus. This past month has seen two monumental events. The financial collapse of the world economy and a historical election that broke centuries of racial inequality in the United States. Obama’s message was all about change and not only will there be change at home but also a movement towards changing the world’s perception of us. This means instead of meaningless applications that rate whether you’re hot or not there will be a movement towards uniting the online industrial western world with developing nations. Online video has already opened up our eyes to injustice around the world but it’s only the start. The tools of Web 2.0 will evolve to help all nations be self sufficient, energy independent (via new energy technology) and environmentally friendly.

Web 2.0 gave us the technology to test the effectiveness, success and power of online interaction. Global information, worldwide interaction & third world participation opens up a world of possibilities to both developing and industrialized nations. I already see the global need for western medical information with infoMedMD. Many of our visitors come from developing nations that likely don’t have access to quality medical care. With infoMeds, developing nations (with online access) can receive Western medical advice almost as if they specifically asked a doctor for a diagnosis.

Health 2.0 applications like Sermo, infoMedMD & PatientsLikeMe are in their infancy but they’re quickly providing patients all over the world with medical research, information and patient outreach – services that previously were only available via costly doctor visits. Online medical applications were definitely slow to adapt Web 2.0 technologies, but I think they’re some of the first players in Web 3.0. Interactive medical data applications used not for online enjoyment (or making friends) but rather to educate people in an attempt to make their lives better and healthier. 

Whatever the third phase of the web is called it’s very likely that it has just begun. The current economic conditions have forced technology companies (and the venture capitalists funding them) to rethink their business models, focus their ideas and think of the next big thing. The third phase of the web will take everything that we’ve learned during Web 1.0 & 2.0 and make it better.

Record Traffic on Election Day

November 5, 2008 1 comment

Techcrunch is reporting that CNN had a record traffic day yesterday with 27 million unique visitors and 276 million page views – an average day for CNN is 5 million visitors and 35 million page views.

akamai-peak1

According to Akamai (chart above) last night at 11pm Est. saw the highest demand for online news content ever recorded at 8.5 million “global visitors per minute”.  This beat out the previous record of 7.3 million global visitors per minute on June 22, 2006 when the United States was eliminated by Ghana in the World Cup. Of the top 15 dates on Akamai’s list of “Highest Peaks based on total visitors per minute” 3 of those days were in 2008, 4 in 2007 and 8 in 2006.

Twitter Swamped on Election Day?

November 4, 2008 2 comments

I would love to see the statistics for the number of Tweets and Facebook uploads for this day alone. Since a couple of my mobile uploads never went through I’m guessing both applications are getting swamped with updates.  However, after resubmitting they successfully went through – no downtime for Twitter!. Looks like that new funding is being well spent.

Bootstrapped

October 13, 2008 1 comment

Well, last week was one heck of a week. Wall Street saw one of its worst weeks ever – actually the worst since 1933. After 8 consecutive days of decline the Dow lost 2,400 points, a 22.1% decrease in just 8 days.   Both the Dow 30 and the S&P 500 reached their all time high on October 9, 2007 closing at 14,164.53 and 1,565.15, respectively. The Dow is down 40% to 8451.19 and the S&P 500 is down 42.5 to 899.22, since October 9, 2007.  (Numbers as of October 10, 2008 close.)

Back in 2000 it was technology that drove the market down and this time around it’s the financials.  It will be interesting to see how much technology will be affected by this massive decline. The internet boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s was spurred by massive internet IPOs that saw stock prices skyrocket for companies with shaky foundations. Over the last 5 years there has been some massive internet valuations but most of them never went public – this could work to the internet’s advantage this time around. During the Web 2.0 era many of these startups were acquired or financed by established companies.  Of course some of these valuations were exorbitant, YouTube bought at $1.65 billion & Facebook valued at $15 billion, but they never IPOed.  Facebook has been flirting with an IPO over the last couple of years but given the current market they’re definitely not thinking about it now. One benefit of remaining in private hands is the ability to steer your company the way you see fit – not the way stockholders see fit which is often influenced by emotion.

One benefit of downturns is a startups ability (or need) to bootstrap operations, be creative and run a more efficient business model. Based on Bizak’s startup statistics over 40% of websites rely on advertising to generate revenues. Today is a good day in the markets but it will likely take years to get back to the levels we saw just weeks ago. The first department to feel this pinch will no doubt be the marketing department. Advertising across the web will decline affecting not only startups but also Google. For startups this will hopefully result in new & creative business models – hopefully more startups will generate product sales, services and subscription models. If a website can’t monetize their free content (advertising, Google Adsense) then they might be forced to charge (micro-payments maybe) for it. Adsense was already becoming worthless and these recent events will likely make it worse. 

Other startups will need to lower their burn rate to weather the uncertainty. I don’t think VC money will dry up as much as it did during the first half of the 2000s but it will probably take pause to access the trickle down effect. Right now the markets are running on a lot of emotion so we need time to pass before accessing the situation. Tough times tend to generate some of the most creative ideas – ideas that capitalize on the situation. Think of all the major web apps that you use today – Google, Myspace, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn.  All of these apps were post “internet bubble” products that were launched during a time when many thought the web was dead. They helped bring the tech sector back in force. This time around it’s the financials struggling and maybe it will be tech that pulls them out? 

All in all it’s a time to conserve and take the necessary steps to ensure the longevity of your application. According to Ron Conway, startups should heed the same advice he gave in 2000 which includes: 

  • If you are in a funding cycle, you should raise your funding as soon as possible and raise as much as possible.
  • You must aggressively examine and pursue M&A opportunities (unless you have over 12 months of cash reserves!) ro insure you have critical mass (including funding, customers, rolodex power, market
    share, cash, synergy, etc.).
  • Be realistic on valuations – they will fall so be ready and willing to co-operate.
  • Look for corporate partners to invest so you can raise more money. You should also consider a sale of your company to your corporate partners.
  • While it’s safe to say entrepreneurs have had negotiating leverage with the “down draft” in the market, the VC community will start exercising their leverage.

For me I have two startups and three more on the way. None of these applications are funded and all of my “salary” is in equity which will require me to wait another 1-3 years. During this time I’ll continue to launch new and exciting applications but I also need to prepare for the unexpected. To accomplish this I’ll likely join/partner with a well funded startup/company where we can equally benefit during this exciting time. Interested?  My resume and my bio.

It’s an exciting time because social and economic events create a snow ball of technological innovation. Innovation that can grow quickly and adapt efficiently. Whether this is the end of Web 2.0 or not doesn’t matter since no matter how you define it the next wave of innovation has just begun.

Internet Valuations

October 7, 2008 Leave a comment

Digg, the user driven social content website, just last week secured $29 million in funding that values the company at $175 million.  As high as Digg’s valuation may sound they’re actually in line, or in many cases much lower, than some of the other well known internet valuations.  For example, in June LinkedIn was valued at $1 Billion and Twitter’s recent round of funding pegged them at $60 million even though they have zero revenues.  However, both are a mere fraction of Facebook’s outrageous $15 Billion valuation that resulted from Microsoft’s $240 million investment in the company.

In an attempt to place more realistic and comparative valuations on internet startups Bizak was launched to aggregate this data according to industry, business type and revenue source.  The following figures are the average valuations for internet startups who rely on the following revenue sources:  

  • Consulting Fees $5,472,028.20
  • In House Advertising $2,936,123.89
  • Subscriptions $1,468,436.00
  • Product Sales $1,324,358.88
  • Affiliate Marketing $631,657.49
  • Google Adsense $124,623.67

Comparing Startup Performance

September 5, 2008 Leave a comment

Below is my answer to a post on VenCorps in regards to using Bizak to compare the performance of new startups to those of established web applications. – Tom

I definitely agree that a company in beta is not an apples to apples comparison to one that’s been around for 5 years. I’ve added a lot of parameters to the sort function (Industry, Type & Revenues) to give niche companies more of an opportunity to stand out but there will be cases where the comparisons might not be perfect. However, with growth additional industries & types can (and likely will) be added to the sort thus giving niches more exposure and individuality.

As for the maturity comparison it might be a good idea to add another parameter to the mix that allows one to sort (and compute) benchmarks according to age – for example the metrics for all of those companies in beta. That can then be broken down to all social networks in beta, etc. A visual of how the benchmarks look (and work) can be seen by the video at http://www.tokibiz.net/benchmarks.asp. Of course you can also view the usability of the site (for startups) by registering with Bizak.

Back to the established players, most of the startups who register with Bizak are relatively new. I’m sure over time the age of startups will increase but the big players like Facebook & YouTube will likely not want to reveal their numbers. As I mentioned above a lot of the ideas for Bizak came from the coverage and aggregation of financials (especially earnings) by Wall Street analysts. As you know analysts cover a particular stock and write reports on that stock forecasting their earnings & revenues expectations. Companies like Thomson First Call aggregate this data into “the street” for when the company announces earnings. Having been one of those analysts for 7 years it’s likely that at some point we’ll do our own research on the top internet companies and integrate those numbers into the database and/or create reports for sale integrating all of the data. Of course private firms are not required to reveal this information so a lot of digging will be needed to get costs and revenue data – traffic is obviously easy to find. Via my blog I’ve analyzed some of the big players including YouTubeFacebookMySpace, and for fun Twitter.

I’m a firm believer that internet startups need to also offer “offline” services to their mix. With Bizak I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the amount of services (in addition to the website) that I can see us offering startups in the future. The additional research (above) being one but also a startup’s need to create a professional business valuation/consultation when applying for funding is another. Also, the web development/incubation services that I offer via TOKiBiz is another – infoMedMD is an example of our first venture in this field.