Tag Archives: startup

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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Two social media themes: March 9 2010

Now that we have multiple social networks for multiple purposes and interests, with new ones emerging and gaining traction regularly, technologists and user experts are thinking about what's next.

Turning activity across networks into actions the user manages:  Making it possible for people  on one network to communicate with people on other networks, in terms of content and activity, without leaving their original networks.  But will the networks allow it or continue to buttress the walls in their gardens?  Adrian Chan via Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb.

Turning fans into buyers into communities:  Several of these principles for how not to kill a startup are amazingly appropriate
for how to turn targets into buyers.  Starts with knowing who you are
and who your customer is and where the twain must meet.  Greg Boutin.

Leadership: Delivering bad news well

This morning, the cable news network devoted to business news and reports direct from the world's exchanges, CNBC, eloquently called for world business leaders to step forward and communicate with the public about the inherent strength of national economies and the fact that we can weather through this panic-fueled crisis.

Here in San Francisco today, one of our more visible startups, Seesmic, announced layoffs.  Seesmic is an interesting company.  It enables people to hold conversations via video, on the Web.  It is building user traction on a global basis. 

Seesmic's decision to contract occurs on a much smaller scale than something like a Lehman Brothers.  The folks affected are part of a team whose members know each other well.  When you work in a startup, the working relationships are close in a different way.  Everyone is working to build or build out an invention.

I don't know what kind of a response CNBC has received from business leaders, but I don't think anyone could do a better job than Seesmic's founder, Loic Lemeur, in showing how to deliver news candidly yet with great humanity.  And English is his second language.  Watch this or watch and read his blog post to see how one can execute one of the less attractive tasks of leadership:  delivering bad news well while confirming hope for the future.

Cuil. Too cool for words?

Richard MacManus of ReadWriteWeb wrote a post last night about the big coverage of Cuil, thought and/or hoped by many to be the Google killer.

The MacManus post muses about the coverage of the new search engine and the major criticism that followed its debut.  A lot of expectations mismanaged.  So MacManus cites the echo chamber and the hyperbole that stokes it.

But let’s not blame the PR people, people.  Yes, I find much of the language, elitist and cozy, too much to bear.  But somebody’s swallowing it.  And it’s not just the TechCrunches and the Valleywags.  It’s our highly trained, self-proclaimed highly professional mainstream media.

Here are the suggestions I just shared in a comment to MacManus’s post.  Let’s start stripping away the hype.  Ultimately, it’s the best thing for all concerned.

Lots of insightful comments on your interesting post.  This is not a criticism of Cuil, either.  Time will tell.

I do have comments to the press, bloggers, all the new media types “covering” startups, Silicon Valley, tech money:

1  You are part of the echo chamber.  Think before you write.  Choose your words carefully and wisely.

2  Talk with the potential enemies as well as the pals and coterie of the founders and the VCs.

3  Recognize that not everyone tells the truth.

4  If you don’t understand the technology, find someone neutral who does.  Neutral = doesn’t have an ax to grind.

5  In comparing products, rely on your own instincts and that of a true expert to unearth key points of differentiation between products and services.  Don’t just reprint what you’re being fed.

6  Start looking for the real stories of Silicon Valley.  Yes, you’re busy.  But when you take on the responsibility of distilling facts for others, you take on the responsibility to dig.  If you don’t have the work ethic for this role, find something else to do.  We’re sick of the hyperbole.  The real stories of Silicon Valley are not that far beneath the superficial surface on which you skate.

This is coming to you from someone who helps to craft and tell the stories of startups and corporations that are in this for the joy as well as the payoff — and who wouldn’t dream of yanking your chains.  Wake up.

Is Yelp a business, community service or not for profit? Paging Comrade Lenin.

Calley Nye wrote today about Yelp and its impact on companies reviewed there.  Yelp presents itself as a place where the community can gather to share its experiences with businesses — and Yelp likes to invoke conversation as a core concept.  The site is gaining in popularity, and negative reviews can break a business, particularly a restaurant.  So businesses are forming alternate sites to combat the effect. 

Why don’t these businesses just bring the argument or discussion to Yelp?  Because Yelp won’t let them.  Yelp does not permit businesses to respond one way or the other to a review.  This is a shame, because the young company is leaving valuable conversation on the table.  And missing the point of social media.  

Or at least that’s how a lot of people see it.  I’m starting to notice a devilish little trend among startups that seek to change the world.  They reap the benefits of a capitalistic structure without contributing to it.  In this case, Yelp could be helping to evangelize the importance of companies listening to and actually talking with customers — and Yelp could be setting itself up as the nexus of the interaction

Instead, the company is kidding itself — or trying to kid us — into thinking it is leveling the playing field by going after nasty business owners and putting more power into the hands of the “community.”  That businesses are not part of the community! 

Wait a minute.

Is Yelp a business?  And if so,  because Yelp’s CEO [a business term] created a loyalty hierarchy consisting of community, consumers and businesses, as articulated to none other than THE NEW YORK TIMES, into which category does Yelp fall?  Finally, by whose universal standard are Yelp-reviewed businesses measured?  If the answer is the community’s, then who decides the community?  Or are we going to check with Comrade Lenin via seance?

I love it when a startup presents itself as anti-establishment as it indulges in the third oldest profession to make money.  That would be advertising.

Anyway, I find it hard to believe that Yelp’s mission is either noble or democratic.  At least, not any more than any other business trying to launch, make money and do business ethically.  So let’s use Yelp for what it is — a repository of reviews we can use for information but for nothing more.  And let’s not be used by it.

Girl Geeks: Watch out for the profiteers

My morning scan of tech blogs revealed a post on Valleywag about the woman-owned porn company's sponsorship of the upcoming Girl Geek Dinner here in San Francisco.  I'm not surprised that the scampy Gawker property supports the dinner's tacky sponsor.  [side note:  co-sponsor Facebook, where are you?]

I am surprised, however, that Valleywag is letting the porn company founder get away with this gem: "I'm a tech vet, and I used
to be very similar — you want to strip your sexuality and just live in
your brain, and be a talented, smart individual so you can compete in a
male-dominated space. You become sexless — but why can't I be both? Why
can't I be beautiful and sexy and be smart?"

This is specious logic at best, and I think the women of Silicon Valley know it.  Heck, women around the world know it.  At least those who have been in the workforce for a while.

Since when did it become necessary for any woman to demonstrate her femininity by stripping off her clothes in public for pay?  This company may be trying to position itself as an agent for artists [their word for the women on their site], but we all know what they're selling.  And will the so-called artists achieve the same level of profit as the VCs and the founders for permitting themselves to be exploited?

Girl Geek Dinners, you're being used.  Just like the women who are being told that an element of liberation is using your power over your body to expose it for pay.  Go ahead and accept this company's sponsorship and convince yourselves that whatever any woman does as an entrepreneur is OK.  Go ahead and roll down that slippery slope.  You won't like what you find at the bottom.

By the way.  The above quote also made me laugh.  I've been fighting — and winning — the argument that a woman can be beautiful and sexy and smart for years.  I had hoped it would be over by now, by virtue of my own maturity and what I figured would happen in society as well. 

Never in my wildest nightmares did I expect that I would read what I did this morning from a person of my own gender.  But, I guess we have come a long way.  Women now get to live and smirk on the dark side of a free market, too. 

I don't think this is what Susan B Anthony and Eleanor Roosevelt had in mind.

Understanding clutter

A couple of posts ago, the topic was clutter and I said more was coming in the next post.  Then NEW YORK magazine did its issue on belt tightening, and I had to share that.  Back to clutter.

Until a little more than ten years ago, my work was in and around professional and financial services.  Helping to execute to brand messages, often helping to create them.

Then I decided to come out west to Silicon Valley.  Which meant a whole new layer of important clutter.  Namely, periodicals and books and newspapers.  I’ve always felt most comfortable walking into a project having done some secondary research and when possible, having had some conversations with people in the field.

Now that I’m in essentially two different fields, the amount of research I must do has exploded.  Since I’ve always been a structure nut, my world has imploded with the expanded reach afforded by the Internet.  While I’ve become expert at printing only when necessary and stuff is not piling up on my desk anymore — there is work material on different websites and in my laptop, scattered in every program.  I now read the newspapers online and live for my RSS feeds, delivered through my growing Netvibes account.  [They’re in beta — I hope I’m not taxing the servers.]

So when I came across the Unclutterer website and found this post on how to retain more of what I read, I jumped on it.  The post has some useful tips.

But I think the biggest change has come through my work with foldier, a startup in which I’m currently the only purely business-tasked person.  Everyone else is a technologist or computer scientist.  Besides liking it that way, foldier has introduced me to what I believe will be THE way for me to de-clutter my work life.

We’re in private beta, but I can tell you this:  foldier is going to be nirvana for three types of people.  [If you’re like me, you have a bit of each type in you.]  And I can say this because I didn’t invent it.

First, foldier makes it possible for me to collect my content from wherever it is on the Web or on my hard drive — simply by tagging it.  This means no more files, no more remembering where I put stuff, no more making multiple copies for multiple files.  I don’t even need a filing system.  If I’m looking for something on data portability, for example, I just search my foldier account under that phrase.  Everything I have on the topic pops up.

Second, foldier makes it possible for me to search my content under any word or phrase — whether or not I tagged it as such.  The technology is intelligent — it does its own tagging in addition to mine.  This means I might be able to find new subject matter in content I already have.

Third, foldier gives me a new way to share information with clients and friends.  Until foldier, the only way I could share important articles or news releases with clients was to send them the link in an email.  When we are in full public beta, I’ll be able to share any kind of file — video, blog post, newspaper, etc — comment on it and hear comments back.  And, foldier automatically adds it to my virtual filing system.  All in a few steps.

There is more — and it’s not just about aggregating, organizing and sharing.  However, that would be enough for me.  Because there is nothing like having command of all the information you think is essential to your work.  Except for maybe cleaning out a closet.