Tag Archives: Internet

The next generation of Internet startups

In March 2012, I read about a new startup called BrandYourself and signed up.  Inspired by one of its founder’s negative search engine results — he was being confused with a drug dealer — BrandYourself is nonetheless about much more than deleting bad search results.  The company is one of several new startups that enable regular people to optimize their online activities and/or make their lives easier.  I am so impressed with BrandYourself that I talked with CBS Interactive about it.

There are plenty of so-called reputation management plays out there, well-funded, in fact, but BrandYourself represents a super-important shift in technology — what I see as the next generation of startups.  It is one of a bunch of companies that were born where their customers live, and they enable customers to manage and optimize their content — giving them a bit of control they did not have.  In BrandYourself’s case, you tell them what you want turning up in a search, so the Internet is not just happening to you.

Another new generation startup, Citrus Lane [my client], packages and delivers products for babies and their parents monthly, saving them time and money.  This is great, but Citrus Lane also invites customers into a community of parents who share their experiences and wisdom.  The so-called mommy bloggers are running with it, taking to their sites and YouTube to talk about their experiences with the brands that Citrus Lane packs — and talking about how Citrus Lane covers all their bases:  monthly surprises, good things for their babies, product research.

Wix.com [I use it for my consulting practice], makes it possible for anyone to create  a beautiful, compelling, differentiated website for a small business.  Their designers and programmers work on the art and the underlying engine, giving you templates to follow that extract the content that makes for a good story.  At the same time, you have a creative outlet that gives the world a picture of the real you.  This is essential to strong marketing [something I always tell my clients].

These startups use technology to pull ideas from you to shape your presence and your circles online.  And while BrandYourself and companies like it do have the luxury of following the quirky programming geniuses who perfected web platforms, they are very wisely taking those innovations a step further, not copying them.  They are addressing what regular people need, now that we have Facebook, LinkedIn, et al,  and providing services on top of those platforms that meet real expectations.

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Dis-intermediated, dis-rupted, de-served

We've all heard about how Internet applications and networks are disruptive.  They're rewiring the longstanding patterns of business and commerce, often removing whole channels of players content in established value and supply chains.

This is naturally making a lot of people nervous, especially those with equally-longstanding power bases to protect.

But the rest of us are seeing the possibilities and embracing change — even when it's unclear what that change will actually mean. 

We've got one political candidate who is disrupting the political process of his party, and on Tuesday evening, we witnessed the resistance to his call to action.  There are voters with dependencies they don't want to break.  They went with the old-power candidate.

Candidates can run on platforms promising jobs in outmoded industries and more-than-temporary government aid.  But they can't hide.  We've already seen that.  And any victory, even a big one in November, would just be the last
grunt of a dying beast — not a wholesale resuscitation of Business As
Usual.

The same is true in industries slow to recognize what digital access means to their performance.  Here are just three examples of many that point to the end of a tired era.

  1. Book publishing.  Last week we had yet another story of a newly-published memoir, heralded by reviewers, rewarded with a large printing run, that was exposed by the author's sister as a complete fraud.
  2. The mortgage crisis.  We are not only seeing the housing market rocked by really stupid loan decisions, those accountable for such decisions are probably going to get away scot-free.  With platinum parachutes.  Who picks up the tab?  Look in the mirror, you folks who live within your means.
  3. The irrelevance of marketing.  Most people in marketing still don't see it, much less get it:  online interaction is changing every possible act of branding, positioning, competition and selling.  And who's paying for the ignorance?  The companies that think marketing is a done-deal, necessary-evil overhead function with no capacity to change.

The obstinate will tell you that these are random events which have nothing to do with digital democracy.  They think of the Internet as a toy best left to young people with time on their hands.  It's good for email and research and stalking old beaus and buying books or old china, but real commerce and communication?  No way.

I submit that the citizenry, in this country and around the world, is waking up to the fact that the old order is just not working very well. 

We're in a moment:  the integration of human need and human capability — an integration that happens at random moments in history around new inventions and innovations.  Using my three examples:

  • Publishing toolmakers such as blurb.com will enable anyone with a few dollars and a manuscript to publish — hard or soft cover.  Instead of a market flooded with dreck, which is what the publishers and agents and writing "consultants" want you to believe will happen, we'll have cream rising to the top, via market demand fueled by word of mouth voiced on the Internet.  Impact:  Who gets published will no longer be in the hands of a tight circle whose center rests in New York and whose pockets get lined just for making an introduction or starting a manuscript bidding war.  Further, we won't have to deal with the outcome of editors who refuse to spend any time checking their authors.  [I mean, come on.  Didn't we learn something from the James Frey episode?  What more do you editors need to see before you'll start doing some elementary fact checking?]
  • Micro loans and person-to-person investment will enable people to invest in other people.  Bankers who reap ridiculous "returns" based on manipulating the deposits of investors, making lousy loans that make them rich but rob the rest of us over the long term, will lose a large part of their franchise.  The new Internet banks that directly connect people who need money with those who have it will change the way decisions are made.  We'll see caution and appropriate risk because people will be using their own money — not playing with someone else's — and earn a reasonable rate of return, not one on par with loan sharks.
  • Marketing will become a function that requires an investment in energetic, strong, quick thinkers — not infrastructures of useless overhead, print waste and advertising campaigns.  Instead of people who spend most of their time networking for the next CMO position, we'll have professionals who actually know how to perform marketing tasks and use real skill to engage markets not preach to them, connecting their brands and brand promises to buyers.  CEOs, CFOs and COOs will be able to measure marketing performance.  Finally.

I've chosen three examples that are personal hot-button issues.  Just as we are seeing landmark change in the American political process, there are many more changes in other realms now and down the road.  Honest, creative, productive — and democratic.

The fall of the empire?

A few people have been writing this week of their concerns about too much connecting via social networks and too little personal exchanges.  That we’re relying too much on the Internet to sustain relationships.  And those relationships can only be of questionable quality.

It’s timely they are raising these concerns because it gives some long-time experts the opportunity to put the Internet in an historical, cultural context.  Its introduction and immersion into our lives are as important as the telephone, the airplane, men walking on the moon.

Stowe Boyd wrote a terrific post on why we must not fear use of the Internet but embrace it as the tool that it is. 

I think if the empire falls, it will be due to the importance we place on what we project instead of what we think or do.  The fact that a lot of the posturing occurs on social networks is of less concern than the fact that we humans continue to pursue status and honor acquisition.

The Internet IS the platform

I’m coming up on ten years here in the hotbed of technological wonder.  I’ve had the privilege of working with everyone from brilliant computer scientists who invent useful, groundbreaking tools to carpetbagging purveyors of vapor. 

Every experience has been valuable.  But today’s era is my most comfortable working zone so far.

Maybe it’s because I understand the better questions to ask, especially the followup variety that probe grand statements and detail-laden explanations. 

I think, though, it’s also because I use the platform upon which so many young companies and inventors perform in this era:  the Internet.  Like most of us, I have personal experience with its reach, on professional and personal levels.  I know what it can do and what it should do.

So when I see as I have in the past few days, that, via the Internet, some wonderfully talented, uninhibited, courageous, energetic wizards seek a place beside the inventors who have shaped every generation of technology thus far, I’m thrilled.

This is their moment.  Yet amid the enthusiasm and the charming arrogance and the ambition, there is a threat emerging — a threat that may slow our momentum and not for very good reason.

I’m hearing and reading that these bold titans seek to change the world.  It’s said that they’re going to do it by creating platforms on top of the Internet. 

The assertions that this company or that startup will be the tollbooth to or the bridge across or the mapmaker for the Internet completely contradict what Internet sages say and write about the greatest advantage of the Internet — that it is an open platform needing only inventive ways to leverage its speed and adaptability — that it’s a territory requiring no fences or property boundaries, just tools that are inherently valuable for what they do with content, thus worthy of investment and bound to generate reasonable profit within the reach of more than the elite inner circle of northern California and its favorite sons.

The Internet is the platform.  You can make your mark on the world without owning its newest nation or gerrymandering its boundaries.  That is, if when you say you want to change the world you mean using your talents to leave the world better than you found it — not just to enter the stratosphere of gazillionaires for the purpose of power, fame and notoriety.

You see, I have a feeling that there will be many marks left upon our world in this era.  Many big things are next, not just one. 

That’s because the Internet is what it is:  territory that cannot ever be claimed or owned by a few, whatever their brilliance and drive and access to the current powers-that-be.