Delivering software as a service

Adam Bosworth has an interesting post on the evolution of software and why software delivered as a service will be the business model of the future. As you know, I have always been interested in this trend since my first post in October 2003 and since I invested in a number of companies in 1998 and 1999 like LivePerson and Expertcity (GoToMyPC) that subscribed to the ASP business model. What I have learned and what Adam points out is that it comes down to the customer experience, making a product easier to use for a customer and evolving it as quickly as possible to meet the customer’s needs. Software delivered as a service enables that and packaged software does not. In the time it takes Microsoft to deliver an application (went from 1 year to 5 years), a company delivering software as a service can deliver 60 iterations of its product. As Adam points out, “things that breed rapidly more quickly adopt through natural selection to a changing environment.” I have never thought about software in evolutionary terms, but it certainly makes sense. From an evolutionary perspective, the ASP business model is quite interesting to examine. While every piece of software should not and will not be delivered as a service, it is also quite clear that customers are tired of buying expensive software products with large upfront licenses, expensive hardware to purchase, manange, and maintain, followed by expensive professional services to get the product up and running. From this backdrop, it is easy to see why reducing complexity and simplifying technology for customers is a big driver to more rapid adoption of products. It is also easy to see why reducing complexity for the customer also helps reduce complexity for the vendor, lowering the friction to sell and deliver its product. This means a more capital efficient business model, one which would hopefully scale much quicker and cost less to build product, sell, and support customers. For the vendor, it makes it:
  1. Easier to sell
    -shorter sales cycle-do not have to test extensively in a customer’s environment
    -lends itself to telesales, can demo over phone and web, do not need a huge sales infrastructure to close deals (just need quota bearing reps without a huge staff of sales engineers and professional services guys to get the job done)
    -not a capital expense, usually sold as monthly or annual subscription which can many times be taken out of business budget as opposed to IT budget
  2. Easier to install
    -no messy installation process, long testing process, or even waiting for hardware to be delivered to customer
    -can leave a customer and simply point them to a URL, train Continue reading "Delivering software as a service"

The future of television advertising

Fred Wilson and John Battelle have some interesting posts on the future of television and advertising. Fred and John both seem to believe that the concept of paid search will eventually work its way into television advertising. I suggest reading their posts if you have an interest in this space and learning how it will change as PVRs, VOD, and HDTV further penetrate the market. While one can look at how the success of Internet advertising will work its way into the television especially as the two markets converge, I like to look at the $60 billion spent on cable and television advertising another way. Rather than assume it will all go away in the future, why not do something to make it more effective today? What if you could change and personalize the actual commercials to turn television and cable advertising from a mass market media to a one-to-one relationship? Recently, Businss 2.0 (sorry registration required-hey Business 2, when are you going to open yourself up for bloggers to generate traffic for you?) had a nice article about one of my portfolio companies, Visible World, which has the technology that allows advertisers to do just that. As per the article,
Instead of making a single ad, the agency can now create its 30 second stories as a sequence of swappable components using Visible World software. The file is then sent to servers, already installed at Comcast’s cable centers, which instantly assembles hundreds or even thousands of different versions of the ad and send them to particular groups of viewers. The ads can be updated or modified automatically, just like a website. “In the winter, an airline ad could say, “It’s 52 degrees warmer in Miami today, ” Haberman tells the group, “Or an ad for a limited-editiion Volkswagen Beetle could say there are only 392 cars left, creating a sense of urgency.
I encourage you to try the demo to customize a few ads on your own. Username is Business2 and password is visibleworld. The bet is that a more effective and more personalized advertisement will stop some viewers from hitting the fast forward button on their PVR remote. The good news is that Visible World has already worked with some blue-chip companies like Bank of America, Ford, and United Airliness. In addition, via deals with cable companies like Comcast, Visible World will be able to reach 30 million households by the end of 2004.
Comcast says it can direct ads to narrow zones of 1,000 to 20,000 homes in a growing number of cities, including Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Miami, and Phildelphia. But to Haberman, that’s just the beginning. Within the next 2 years, he Continue reading "The future of television advertising"

What commoditization means for IT spending

The numbers are coming out, and it is clear we are moving to a low growth environment for corporate IT spending in terms of dollars spent. Companies spent too much in the 90s and are being cautious about how they spend their hard-earned cash. Total cash and savings for companies in the S&P 500 have doubled since 1999 and is equal to half a trillion dollars which means companies have added almost 300 billion dollars to their balance sheet in the last 5 years. While companies have so much more cash these days versus 5 years ago, they are spending roughly the same amount on IT. What gives? Reports cite how executives are still worried about the economy or terrorism. However, one other interesting aspect to consider is the effect of commoditization on IT spending. Here we are monitoring year over year growth on actual, nominal dollars spent on IT, hoping and waiting for an uptick in spending which will fuel more growth. After all there is a ton of cash out there and corporates have to invest the cash or give it back to shareholders. The funny thing is that the commoditization trend means that companies can do more with less. What that means is that companies can keep the same IT budget and accomplish the same amount or more without increasing their capital expenditures. In addition the competition for the customer’s dollars is fierce which means that the customer has complete control these days in terms of pricing. Both of these factors obviously work against significant increases in IT spending. In fact, customers have so much power these days (and rightly so) that companies like GM are forcing vendors like Sun and Microsoft and Cisco and Microsoft to work together, to standardize and integrate with one another. Here is a quote from Fed Ex’s CIO in a recent New York Times article:
The information technology strategy at FedEx, the package delivery service, points to that conclusion. “Technology is coming to us in much smaller bundles that cost a lot less,” said Robert B. Carter, the company’s chief information officer, whose budget is slightly more than $1 billion. “Our intent is to hold the line on I.T. spending and get more bang for the buck.”
The flat spending does not suggest any lack of enthusiasm for technology at FedEx, a sophisticated corporate user of technology. Mr. Carter reels off a series of projects for helping customers use the Web, e-mail alerts and wireless messages to track inbound and outbound packages, trim inventories and fine-tune operations.

“The global interconnectedness and technology services available are growing at an unbelievable pace,” he said. “We are at an inflection point Continue reading "What commoditization means for IT spending"

Microsoft in a service oriented world…

Here is an interesting article from Business Week about why Microsoft is not so scary anymore. While I do not necessarily buy the argument that a company with billions of dollars of cash on its balance sheet is not scary, the article does raise some interesting questions about Microsoft’s growth, particularly on the enterprise side. A quote from Merrill Lynch software analyst, Jason Maynard, sums it up:
“Microsoft still has the critical mass and the franchise of Windows and Office, but there are fundamental changes going on in how we computer and how businesses get value out of IT,” says Merrill’s Maynard. He further points out that many of these trends, including the rise of on-demand computing models, and software as a service, putting more computing power into the networks, are somewhat antithetical to the Microsoft model.”

That quote definitely resonates with me. In fact, I recently had lunch with a friend who is heading up the Enterprise Architecture group for one of the largest health companies. His goal is to move the company to a service oriented architecture in the next 4-5 years. At the end of the day for him and his organization it is all about having better capacity utilization. Instead of having to roll out a new server with a new database and new storage for every new application, his company wants to deploy the app in a grid and increase the capacity utilization from 30% to 80%. During this 2 hour conversation about architecture and technology, Microsoft was never mentioned until I brought it up. When I prodded him further about this he mentioned that he recently spent time with Microsoft and was less than convinced of how Microsoft was going to help him realize his goal. He said the products are nice, tell a good story, but it still seems disjointed. In addition they are not moving fast enough for him. Just look at the delays in getting the monolithic Longhorn out as an example. Increasingly his organization is relying more and more on an open source, commodity stack, which, by the way, is delivering product on a much more rapid pace. In his view, Microsoft cannot tell the same story that an IBM or HP can in helping his company move to a service-oriented world. While this is one data point, I do believe that there will be challenges ahead for Microsoft in the enterprise. The commoditization of technology is definitely a strong force. The post Microsoft in a service oriented world… appeared first on BeyondVC.

Strike while the iron is hot

I was speaking with a friend of mine today who mentioned that his term sheet for his Series A round fell through. Things looked great for the last 6 weeks and then the deal process went into a stall regarding intellectual property rights. To make a long story short, one of the co-founders of the company built the company’s software in his spare time. However, he also had a full time job and decided ultimately to stay there rather than join the startup. Well, you can imagine that down the line the company that the co-founder worked for could potentially claim rights to the IP. Rather than leave this open to chance, the VC and the early stage company did the right thing and decided to clean up the ambiguity. Today, the IP is about to get assigned in the proper manner. However, the VC got cold feet and backed out of the deal. So what happened? You see, deals take a life of their own. The more time it takes to close a deal, any deal, the more chance there is for it not to happen. Momentum is a powerful force but deal inertia can be more powerful. It sounds like the VC just got tired of the deal and also got cold feet as it seemed that a competitor or 2 cropped up during the deal closing process. This is not the only story of delayed deal closings. I was interviewing a CFO candidate for one of my portfolio companies yesterday and one of our discussion points was why a potentially large deal fell through. From his perspective, his side tried to overnegotiate the fine points, extending the closing out by a month. During that time the potential acquirer missed its numbers, got hammered by the street, and decided to back out. My advice to you if you are going to raise a round is to make sure that you are prepared for all that may come at you in terms of due diligence. Have your financials clean, make sure your IP is owned by the company and not by any consultants, and have your references teed up to talk to potential investors. The more prepared you are the more impressed the VC is and the quicker the deal closes. One other point to remember, do not overnegotiate. Figure out the big picture of what you want in a VC partner and deal, negotiate those points but be willing to give up other points that the VC cares about. I have been in a few situations where an entrepreneur overnegotiates, and it certainly makes me wonder what it will be like to work with that person post-closing. Will Continue reading "Strike while the iron is hot"

Vortex and Web 2.0

Unfortunately I could not make it to the west coast for the Vortex or Web 2.0 conferences. However, I have been following Vortex via Jeff Nolan and Web 2.0 through a variety of bloggers. As I read through Jeff Nolan’s notes on the enterprise and thoughts from the gorillas in the market, Cisco, Microsoft, Oracle, HP, etc., it is clear that they are all pointed in the same direction, and the vendors are aggressively pushing towards a service-oriented world where you have management software that allocates resources on the fly and componentized software consumed as services on demand. The major disruption will be how we get there. This is in line with an earlier post I made about opportunities for enterprise software investments. As you hear from the horses’ mouths via Jeff’s notes, Cisco will try to creep in from the network (it does not want to be a dumb router) and embed intelligence on the edge and move into the enterprise (security, voip apps, etc). Microsoft is trying to move from the desktop to the edge (btw, I still think that if Microsoft wants to get security right it not only needs to fix its OS but also needs to either partner or aquire someone that can help lock down the perimeter). In the software stack itself, SAP on the enterprise app side does not want to give the plumbing away to Microsoft or BEA and has gone off and built its own platform, Netweaver. Then you have IBM wrapping services around its middleware stack. With this disruption and dislocation in the enterprise market, the great news is that all of these gorillas are aggressively out there looking to acquire companies that help push their trademarked vision of a service-oriented world. The only issue with all of this is that enterprises still don’t seem that willing to spend right now so maybe this vendor-led revolution will take a lot longer. Despite my interest level in the enterprise, it is clear that the speed of innovation in the web world is happening at a much faster pace. There are lots of great speakers and content at the Web 2.0 conference so I encourage you to stay updated through the RSS feeds on the news page. As I read through all of the notes from the conferences, it is clear that one of the unifying themes is the proliferation of XML and the way people are using it (RSS, common APIs, componentized software, assembly of services to create composite applications, etc). For more on XML, I suggest reading Bill Burnham’s excellent post from the other day. The post Vortex and Web 2.0 appeared first on BeyondVC.

The web-based platform

There has been lots of discussion about the web as the new platform so none of what I am saying is new. However, I recently came across Adam Bosworth’s take on this which is quite interesting given his experience at Microsoft, BEA, and now Google.
The platform of this decade isn’t going to be around controlling hardware resources and rich UI. Nor do I think you’re going to be able to charge for the platform per se. Instead, it is going to be around access to community, collaboration, and content. And it is going to be mass market in the way that the web is mass market, in the way that the iPod is mass market, in the way that a TV is mass market. Which means I think that it is going to be around services, not around boxes. I postulate, still, that 95% of the UI required for this world will be delivered over the browser for the same reason that we all still use a steering wheel in a car or have stayed with << < | > >> for so long. Everybody gets it. But this will, by definition, be an open platform because the main value it has is in delivering information and communication. Notice that the big players, Amazon, eBay, and Google have already opened up their information through Web API’s. It is Open Data coupled with Open Communication built on top of Open Source that will drive the future, not Longhorn.

The Microsoft/Google wars will be a great one to watch over the years. I, for one, being a big fan of the ASP and hosted software model, like the browser based-platform. It makes so much sense and will continue to do so as we get even more bandwidth and more devices from which to access web-based services. As GBrowser rolls out, I wonder how long it will be before Google, leveraging open source, rolls out GOffice and GCollaboration (web-ex like functionality) to really go after Microsoft. Maybe Salesforce.com and Google get together at some point in the distant, distant future? The post The web-based platform appeared first on BeyondVC.

Opportunties for Enterprise Software Investments

I had the opportunity to spend a few hours today at an Intel Capital event for their portfolio companies and VC friends. While a great way to network with fellow investors and meet new companies, I particularly enjoyed a talk given by Chris Thomas, Intel’s EStrategist, on the future of software in the enterprise. While none of the ideas were new, I liked how he laid out the major themes in computing and software in a well-thought out presentation. Here are some of my notes from that discussion. Chris’ view is that we are moving towards a service-oriented world, where enterprises can tap applications and resources on demand and on the fly. Yes, we have heard this theme over the last few years in a number of different incarnations. In fact, I got a chuckle from Chris’ list of marketing slogans from all of the large vendors trying to trademark their specific vision on the service-oriented world (N1, on-demand, etc.). Anyway, despite the hype of SOA (service-oriented architectures), it is beginning to happen, it is real, and it is still early. As we move into this world of SOAs, there will be tremendous opportunities for software investment as enterprises consolidate, modularlize, and virtualize their data centers. Chris highlighted the 5 buckets or themes that mattered to him:
  1. Software and data delivered as services
    -think ASP model, think modular, software components that perform a specific task, which can be used as building blocks and combined with other components via web services to solve a specific business problem
    -this will be the new way to build software and go-to-market
    -he gave an example of how AT&T used a combination of hosted software vendors and their APIs to deliver an order routing solution for a customer in 2 weeks instead of 9-12 months
    -a side note – as we move into an increasingly global world, no need to worry about software piracy since you can’t steal a service but you can steal sofware
  2. Hardware as a virtualized resource
    -view hardware as one set of services
    -manage capacity on demand
    -new hardware=new software opportunity

  3. Autonomic data sources (RFID, tags, smart sensors)
    -Chris gave an estimate that an average retail store could have up to a terabyte of data from RFID alone
    -think about the opportunities here to process, filter, store, and understand all of this data
    -how will all of this data flow through the network in an optimal way?
    -once again, more investment opportunities in software

  4. Occasionally connected usage (Intel’s mobile theme)
    -performance of offline and occassionally connected usage much better than always-on
    -opportunities include power, performance, software that works online and offline (go to back to theme Continue reading "Opportunties for Enterprise Software Investments"

Thoughts on picking your VC

Jeff Nolan has a comprehensive post on choosing your VC. I totally agree with Jeff’s view that not only should entrepreneurs do their diligence when choosing a VC to invest in their company, but VCs should also do reference checks on their new partners. This includes understanding potential board dynamics and making sure investor interests are aligned. Put it this way, a bad board with bad dynamics rife with egos and competing interests can bring a company down quickly. Some areas to explore include understanding the size of fund, the amount of dry powder, the appetite for risk, the view on the existing business plan, team, and management gaps to fill. As an example, a smaller fund with less dry powder may want to grow less agressively than a larger fund with more capital to invest. Not that the situation above can’t work, but it is incumbent upon the entrepreneur and existing VC to understand the potential areas for conflict and make sure they get comfortable with them. This means that the entrepreneur and existing investor should spend the appropriate time to get to know their potential partner (if they do not already know them) in addition to doing the right reference checks (see Jeff’s post for areas to dig). The post Thoughts on picking your VC appeared first on BeyondVC.

Our broadband future

During the Internet boom, all eyes were on the United States as we were the first to leverage this new medium and create some amazing companies and uses of the Internet from ecommerce to search to online dating. Many of these companies did not know how they were going to make money except that they would figure it out. Over time the business models evolved, some became profitable and some simply went away. Entrepreneurs in Europe and Asia were able to learn from our successes and failures to launch their own modified clones of many US web companies. Today, the tables have turned. When I think about our broadband and wireless future, we in the US can look overseas for models that work and fail. Europe and Asia are clearly ahead of us in terms of deploying 3G and real broadband pipes to the home. As I think about how wireless and broadband will change how we live and the applications that will drive thoses changes, I would be foolish not to dive deeply into how it has impacted countries like Korea, for example. Peter Lewis of Fortune has a great article (unfortunately password required) in this past week’s edition outlining the impact that wireless and broadband has had on the country. A quote in Peter’s article from Hung Song can really open your eyes to the possibilities of broadband.
Hung Song, vice president of business development at Samsung, takes his broadband with him wherever he goes. On the drive home from work at 9 or 10 p.m., says Song, a tall, thin in-line-skating enthusiast, he uses the phone to check traffic. Because phone carriers can track the location of his third-generation (3G) phone to within a few meters, he has access to a location-based service that monitors real-time road reports and displays alternative routes around traffic jams. (The system also lets him call up a map showing the location of his children, who carry location-based mobile phones too.) If Song gets stuck in traffic anyway, he can always use the handset to watch television news, or go over his next day’s appointments, or download music (Koreans spend more on downloaded music than they do on audio CDs). More likely, though, he’ll do his banking or log on to his computer at the office to check e-mail. As Song drives his Renault Samsung sedan across the Yeongdong bridge, over the broad Hangang River that bisects Seoul, his phone buzzes as nearby restaurants automatically send text messages offering discounts to tempt him to dinner. Some restaurants even let him pay his tab by beaming a code from his handset to a scanner and punching in a PIN number.
Continue reading "Our broadband future"

Running an efficient board meeting

Board meetings can be a gigantic waste of time if not run appropriately. On the flipside, they can be a valuable source of input and guidance for a management team in the pursuit of maximizing shareholder value. While there are a number of different ways to approach and run a board meeting, I thought I would outline a few of my philosophies on them, and what I expect from my portfolio companies in terms of content.
  1. Be prepared: Board meetings are like theater. Like any play, I expect the CEO to have a well thought out and scripted agenda for the meeting. The most efficient way to do so is to lay out an agenda and get feedback pre-meeting from the other board members to ensure that the board covers appropriate topics and allocates the right amount of time for each one. From an update and preparedness perspective, the CEO should always go into the meeting having a complete understanding of where the various board members stand in terms of any major decisions. There should be no surprises. This means that the CEO should have individual meetings and calls in advance of the board meeting to walk each director through any decisions that need to be made and the accompanying analyses behind them.
As far as board packages are concerned, I typically like to receive them at least 48 hours in advance so I can process the information and be in a position to ask intelligent questions.
  1. Timing: For an early stage company, I typically like to meet in person every 4-6 weeks. Lately I have been skewing to more of a 6 week time horizon. I believe that timeframe gives the team enough time to execute on some of the goals outlined in the meeting and not spend their time constantly doing powerpoints for the board.
  2. Content: As much time as possible should be spent on discussion, rather than update. What I want to know about is the management team’s priorities and why, how they are tracking against those goals, and what keeps them up at night with respect to meeting their objectives. What I do not want is a litany of presentations and tech demos with no discussion. At board meetings we should continually evaluate and monitor the company’s strategic goals, understand where the market is and how we are positioned vis a vis our competitors, and discuss management’s plans, priorities, and performance.

While there is no right way to run a meeting, having a framework can be a great way to lead organized and informed discussions. A good framework that I like to use is having the CEO give a high level company overview Continue reading "Running an efficient board meeting"

Ready-Fire-Aim

Whether you know it or not, this seems to be the way that alot of early stage companies make strategic and tactical decisions. People run around the halls and manage by crisis, moving from one deal or issue to the next without any overarching goals and process in place. Solving this not only requires better planning but also staying disciplined, holding you and your team accountable, and executing on those goals. Trust me, this is top of mind for me as this is the time of year that many companies start formulating their plans and goals for 2005. We have all been through a number of these so-called planning sessions and have come out with great plans and ideas, but the problem most of the time is that the execution of it never happens. Hopefully, some of my thoughts and suggestions below will help you simplify this process and create a framework to measure, manage, and execute. So let me first start with accountability. Without accountability, it is hard to manage a business. What I typically like to see is a management team put together a few simple company goals, say 3-5, which are easy to remember and that can be measured by Yes/No answers. If you have too many goals or if you cannot measure them, then you cannot manage them. With simple Yes/No goals there should never be any ambiguity about completion. Those goals are usually then rolled out by department (3-5 goals that help the company realize its overall goals) so that marketing, sales, and engineering can be in synch with the company goals and so they can be easily monitored and measured by the executive team and board. Obviously you must be flexible and make course corrections through the quarter and year, but this process helps the executives all get on the same page and drive the company in the right direction. If you don’t have knock down, drag out fights over the company goals and the appropriate allocation of resources to realize them, then you are probably not challenging each other enough. Once the goals are set and agreed on, you must communicate and share them with the whole company. By way of example, an overall goal could be to ship version 4.0. It is a pretty simple Yes or No proposition. Obviously when you roll it down to marketing and development, each department will have its own priorities to make the shipment of version 4.0 a reality. Whenever a new issue or opportunity arises your team can always ask themselves whether or not doing X can help them realize the goal. If not, then it is probably not worth doing. Yes, you Continue reading "Ready-Fire-Aim"

Moving up the food chain

Normally I do not read too much into press releases on industry hires but I found this one interesting on many levels. Intel, a tremendous brand in its own right, hired a marketing executive from Samsung, a Korean company. Most people assume that the US’ competitive advantage over the rest of the world lies in design, innovation, and branding. We can outsource manufacturing and development to countries like China, Korea, and India to create great products at lower prices. However, what we need to understand is that these countries are not just content in producing widgets. They, too, have aspirations in moving up the product food chain to develop their own brands, design their own products, and manufacture them. So for me it was quite ironic to see one of the world’s best brands, Intel, hire the marketing exec from Samsung, where just five years ago it had no brand and was just seen as a low cost producer. What a tremendous job Samsung has done in just a short period of time. As you can see from Samsung’s numbers, it has done an excellent job moving up the food chain, innovating, and creating a brand. This culminated in Intel hiring a Samsung executive. This is just the beginning. In the WSJ today, there was a great front page article (sub required) on Chinese telecom equipment companies penetrating worldwide markets. Once again, this is another example that the very advantages that the US has in innovation, design, and brand may be threatened in the long term, especially if we do not pay attention. The post Moving up the food chain appeared first on BeyondVC.

Getting the real dirt

Jeff Nolan has an interesting post about how a US General views blogs as an excellent source for unfiltered information. Jeff goes on to postulate that CEOs could also get unbiased information from their field as well.
In the private sector it’s only a matter of time before CEO’s, at least the better ones, start figuring out that the best way to get the straight scoop on a topic is to drill down to the field by reading the blogs that exist within the company. Of course, this isn’t an entirely efficient process for an executive who probably already has too much on his/her plate, so the opportunity that exists from a tech standpoint is to aggregate blogs and apply BI techniques to sort, categorize, and apply qualitative filters to. I suppose you could make the case that this is what Technorati or Feedster are doing, but I’m not sure that’s what I am envisioning…. I’m going to need to put some more thought into this and report back at a later time.

This is yet another example of how the web is helping make inefficient processes more efficient, especially when we are moving away from a command and control world to one where empowered individuals or nodes on the edge make decisions. In this world, getting unfiltered information from the edge becomes more important. Rather than squelch his troops, it is quite nice to see that General Myers gets it and is embracing blogs as another data point for him. . The post Getting the real dirt appeared first on BeyondVC.

Post mortem

I recently had a board meeting for one of my portfolio companies and was upset because during the sales pipeline review we only heard great things about the pipeline, new closed deals, and the possibility of beating our quarter yet again. What bothered me, however, was that we did not spend enough time discussing the big losses or missed opportunities. Evaluating losses is a great leading indicator for health in a business. If you can get to the heart of why you are losing deals early on, you can prevent big problems down the line. More often than not, management teams will do the opposite and revel in their victories and not spend enough time in defeat. Great management teams, however, will learn from their losses and missed opportunities – they will learn what went wrong and why to make sure it never happens again. This is like preventitive medicine – diagnose early before large problems arise. This, in my mind, is an important trait to institutionalize in a company. While hitting your quarter is a great thing, if you never take a proactive stance and do post mortems on lost opportunities, your competition will eventually catch up to you. Talk to the prospect and try to understand whether it was the process, the sales person, the product, pricing or competition. After a few of these data points, you will have a better view of why you lost and what you can do to fix it. I strongly believe that you can learn just as much from your losses as you can from your wins. The post Post mortem appeared first on BeyondVC.

Innovation is not dead

Here is another example of why commoditization is not killing innovation. In fact, it can and has given a number of companies a leg up in terms of developing and deploying new products in record time and at low costs. Using so-called commodity software and hardware actually does not kill innovation but speeds it up. For example, Metapa, one of my portfolio companies, has begun shipping a software product (Metapa clustered database) that enables customers to deploy terabyte scale data warehouses on clusters of commodity computers running open source software. To that end, the company just announced a joint customer win and partnership with Sun. In the press release, Jeff Mayzurk, VP of technology for E! Networks, says:
“Deploying a unified data warehouse has always been a strategic goal of E!, but with the total cost of ownership associated with traditional solutions, it hasn’t been practical. Metapa and Sun provided a truly unique solution allowing us to implement an enterprise class data warehouse with the price/performance level that makes our initiative possible.”

Dave Powell, CEO of Metapa, goes on to say:
Metapa and Sun are excited to announce E! Networks as a joint customer and a flagship example of how companies can capitalize on the performance advantages and operational returns of open source and commodity computing for data warehousing,” said Dave Powell, president and CEO of Metapa. “CDB leverages commodity computing, open source database technologies and breakthrough parallel processing algorithms to deliver unprecedented price/performance when compared to traditional, proprietary database solutions.”
To reiterate, commodity computing and open source software can enable breakthrough solutions such as what Metapa is delivering with Sun X-86 hardware. My hats off to the team at Metapa for making this happen. In addition, I love having an early customer win that is referenceable and with a partner that can help replicate this win in a big way. The post Innovation is not dead appeared first on BeyondVC.

Global expansion

We are truly living in a global world these days. Many startups I meet with today are either taking advantage of offshore development or have pushed up plans to expand sales internationally. Given the broader scope of this trend, I have changed the category name Offshore Resources to represent a broader theme, Globalization. While taking advantage of a global economy is a great idea, it certainly can be disastrous for some companies. You can’t just take your existing blueprint for sales and R&D and adopt it in a foreign country. I mean didn’t we learn our lesson from the world expansion of the British empire? So if you are thinking about expanding globally, I suggest reading Jeff Nolan’s post on making sure you have local market knowledge. There are a number of great examples and issues that he outlines. While you may think VCs only want to hear about your company using offshore resources and selling internationally, I am oftentimes underwhelmed by the naivete of some of the entrepreneurs about how and why they are expanding globally. For example, before doing business in other countries, I suggest making sure that you take care of your home market first. The US is a large market, the customers are closer, and the cost of doing business is lower. In fact, if you can have your first customer within driving distance that is ideal. Trust me, customers love knowing that you can show up at a moment’s notice to solve any problem. It is easier to keep a customer happy when you can show up in a half hour than in 24 hours. On the offshore development side, just think through why you are offshoring work and what kind of work you plan on doing in a foreign country. Over time, I have increasingly come to the conclusion that if you are going to do it, make the investment upfront to hire your own team. While the idea of using consultants to get to market quicker sounds attractive, the churn rate is way too high. The time and effort you put forth to train consultants becomes wasted when they jump ship and find a higher paying opportunity. The post Global expansion appeared first on BeyondVC.

We don’t like surprises

One of the recurring themes of dealing with VCs and boards is that we do not like surprises. In addition, tell us the facts, and if there are any negative surprises give us action steps on how you are going to remedy the situation. I have written about the VC/Entrepreneur relationship before and due to its importance will continue to write about it in this blog. Yesterday was one of those days where these themes kept surfacing in my conversations and email and I thought I would share a couple of examples with you. In one meeting yesterday a VP of Sales candidate for one of my portfolio companies walked me through one of the biggest lessons learned in his first start-up experience – lay out realistic numbers and hit them. That means that if you do not have 100% confidence that you will hit the quarter, don’t pad your sales pipeline and wait until the end of the quarter to tell us about a potential miss. You are not doing us a favor by letting us feel like we are going to hit the quarter. Tell us as soon as you know – yes, board members can read between the lines as sales is a numbers game. In addition, explain the action steps you will take to solve the problem so it doesn’t happen again. To say the least, he learned alot from that first board experience. Later in the day, I got an email from another portfolio company’s CEO outlining a potential issue with a key partner. Not only did I like the fact that he communicated with the board right away, but I loved how he included a detailed action plan to resolve the issue. This included securing a meeting with the decision maker ASAP. While all of us were concerned about the news and shared our own thoughts on the action plan, we all felt like we were doing all that we could to overcome the partner’s issues. In the end, I am sure it will work itself out, but it would have been utterly inexcusable if we learned about this after the fact. Anyway, I hope these stories continue to hammer home the importance of working with your board in an open and collaborative manner. Look, bad things happen, but what gets a VC and board upset is not knowing soon enough, soon enough to potentially take corrective action. The post We don’t like surprises appeared first on BeyondVC.

How startups succeed

If you ever wondered what it takes for a startup to succeed, please read the email below sent from the CEO of one of our portfolio companies to his whole staff. Sure, startups don’t have the cash, the people, the distribution channel, and brand to compete with the established players but passion, drive, and an insanely great product can take you a long way.
Dear team members: I have always believed that the key reason for our continued success over the past few years has been, the contributions made by each and every one of you. Without your sincerity, commitment and hard work, we would not have become the #1 partner for Company X. I want to share with all of you, an extremely powerful example of sincerity and commitment, shown by one of our fellow team members. I am sure that each one of you will feel proud of him after reading what he accomplished this week! On Tuesday, July 13th, after finishing a bunch of very successful presentations in the Washington DC Area, John Smith (aka Mad Dog from his army days) took a flight for Memphis, TN where he had to do a presentation in the morning on Wednesday, July 14th. John had to change flights in Atlanta on the way to Memphis. Due to extremely bad weather on the east coast, his flight into Atlanta got delayed and he missed his connecting flight to Memphis. The next available flight to Memphis was the next day at noon, which would cause him to miss his morning presentation. So John asked the airline if they would reimburse him for a rental car to drive from Atlanta to Memphis, thinking that it would be a few hours drive. The airline agreed, so John rented a car and started driving to Memphis from Atlanta. John had been in touch with Dave when all this was going on, so after he started driving, Dave did a quick check on Mapquest and realized that it was a 400 mile, 7 hour drive and not a “few” hours drive as John had thought (it never hurts to be good at Geography!). But Mad Dog did not stop or turn around, he kept driving (with a few coffee breaks to help keep him awake at the driving wheel). He reached Memphis at 5:30 AM, rested for an hour at his hotel and went on to do his presentation – which was very well received. Folks, this story does not end here……….. John then took a flight from Memphis to Jackson, MS where he was scheduled to train 30 users for one of our major customers THROUGH THE NIGHT of Wednesday, July 14th! He Continue reading "How startups succeed"

Influencing the influencers

If I were a startup, one great and cheap way to build buzz and excitement is through the blog community. I call this “influencing the influencers.” Think about it – many of the more well known bloggers are also well known tech journalists, industry pundits, VCs, and technology executives. Forget about using the traditional PR route – if you can get these influencers to write about you on their highly targeted blogs, others will hear about it, write about it, and generate links to it. There has been much discussion about measuring the value of blogs but at the end of the day it is all about being influenced by a trusted source. Each blogger has his own unique audience that trusts his/her opinion. Many of us try and buy products and services based on trust and recommendations. This is no different in the blog community. A number of web 2.0 companies have already leveraged the blogosphere to generate buzz. Not that I am a big influencer by any stretch of the imagination but some of the new companies I have written about recently include Pluck, Bloglines, and Onfolio. And yes, there are many more influential people than I who wrote about these companies as well. I am quite sure all of these posts delivered significant name recognition, brand value, and traffic for the companies mentioned above. Once again, it is not about how many posts, but who posted that really counts because the word and links can spread quickly. Along those lines, Om Malik is certainly a guy you want on your side. Here is a great post by Om where he writes about getting quantifiable evidence for the first time on his influence regarding a post on a new startup, Blinkx:
The blog was posted on a Friday, and by the Monday there were 5,000 links to it and people were discussing it all over the world. Since then, there have been 130,000 direct downloads, and many more through users swapping files. This week, the site – which is only launched today – has been recording 6m links or hits a day solely from word-of-mouth publicity.

That is pretty damn cool! Let me repeat – 5,000 links, lots of discussion, 130,000 downloads, and 6m links/hits all generated for $0 – yes, no money! The post Influencing the influencers appeared first on BeyondVC.