PC Forum 2004-Monday morning

PC Forum is off to a great start this year with an interview with Eric Schmidt from Google and a panel with the CEOs of AOL, Yahoo, and Google. I do not plan on taking detailed notes so I suggest you view Ross Mayfield’s blog and posts to stay current on the conference. I also suggest visiting David Weinberger and Brett Fausett for more notes. With respect to the first panel, I took some interesting notes on spam. AOL and Yahoo are doing all that they can to stop spam, catching high 90% of it. The frightening aspect is that the high amount of spam that you do see is only the 4-5% that is not filtered. AOL gets 2.7 – 3 billion spam messages per day which is trying to get into their system. Not a surprise that spam is a huge issue, but these numbers are. No one claimed to have a silver bullet, but rather advocated the use of multiple ways to overcome this issue. Bruce Schneier had some interesting comments on the security and risk panel. Specifically, Bruce said that security is social and not about technology. Yes, there are technical causes and solutions for security but it is irrelevant if the social and economic model are not fixed. For example, there are plenty of spam filters out there but we still get tons of spam. The economics work for spammers. For users, it comes down to balancing security with the cost to mitigate the risk. People will make decisions based on economic value and cost. I totally agree here. Next up was the CIO panel (Dawn Lepore, former CIO of Schwab, Shai Agassi, SAP, and Rafael Sanchez, Burger King). Dawn Lepore said that software is one of the biggest issues for CIOs. It is complex and costs are excalating tremendously. Software vendors and customers are diametrically opposed as the software vendors want to lock-in customers and the customers want flexibility. How does seeing an architecture diagram where the vendor’s products are in 12 places in a stack solve her business problem? Given this tension between vendors and proprietary lock-in, it is no surprise that open-source and open-platform technology and new business models like the hosted or subscription sale are spreading rapidly. The more you hear the panel talk about technology and the job of the CIO as being a risk manager, you can clearly see why it is so hard for an early stage company to land a big customer. Who wants to take the risk of buying a new technology from a new vendor? Yes, it happens but it is not easy. I guess it is not a coincidence that a number of Continue reading "PC Forum 2004-Monday morning"

The Globalization of Education

Jerry Colonna and I had an interesting dialogue on the topic of utilizing offshore resources. In the end, Jerry and I advocated that education is the key to long-term success for the US. Offshoring of jobs will continue to happen, and it makes sense economically. However, in order to maintain our lead in the US, we need to make sure to educate our children and workforce to move up the value chain so we can continue to innovate, design, create, and own our core Intellectual Property. I just had an interesting discussion with another PC Forum attendee about his daughter’s college application process. He mentioned that it is more competitive than ever and that leading universities had to turn down many applicants with great grades and scores. In his discussion with a leader at an IVY League university, he mentioned that the university could fill its entering class with students from mainland China alone without any adjustments to its admissions process. So China also clearly sees the value of Intellectual Property, and it will be interesting to see how this race to educate our societies develops. Of course, this raises larger questions about how our colleges and universities create the right geographic diversity amongst its student population. However this debate evolves, what is great about this country is that we do educate and train many foreign-born students who contribute immensely to our economy and help us maintain our competitive edge. The post The Globalization of Education appeared first on BeyondVC.

Lunch with Pat Cox-thoughts on offshoring

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of attending a small group lunch in honor of Pat Cox, President of the EU Parliament. It was quite a treat as I got to hear his viewpoint on Spain, terrorism, immigration, and offshoring amongst other things. Since I tend not to write about politics, I thought I would share Pat’s thoughts on offshoring. As you know, in the US, there is increasing political pressure on offshoring and a movement to put legislation in place to prevent and slow this down. Offshoring is certainly a key issue in the EU as well, and Pat offered an interesting and growing perspective on offshoring and how to deal with it. Pat believes strongly that it is not about protecting jobs but protecting people. The jobs will come and go but to the extent we can protect people and train them and teach new skills then we will all be better off in the long run. I certainly share this viewpoint and would like all of us to figure out how we can contribute to this line of thought. If you want to stay on top of all things offshore, I suggest that you visit a new site called Offshoreupdate.com. The site is currently an aggregator of offshore outsourcing stories, but it will soon begin publishing news stories. This is a perfect example of what Jeff Jarvis calls “microcontent.” Throw up a blog, some links, and some Google Adsense and see where it takes you. The post Lunch with Pat Cox-thoughts on offshoring appeared first on BeyondVC.

Open source Router? Open source moves up the stack?

I finally got a chance to catch up on some trade rags and came across this interesting blurb from Network Magazine about XORP, the Linux of Routing. While an early project from UC Berkeley, I encourage you to take a look and keep it on your radar. This is yet another example of the potential commoditization of high-end products. Here is an excerpt:
“Since the routing code and the OS are free, the biggest expense will be the hardware. Commodity PCs make notoriously poor routing platforms, so they’ll need a sufficiently gast bus structure to boost their total processing and throughput. The recently standardized PCI-X 2.0 fits that billing, providing bus sppeds reaching 700,000 64-byte Ethernet packets per second. That’s good news not only on the performance front, but for the price tag as well. “A machine with 1GByte of RAM could easily be assembled today for less than $1,500,” says Orion Hodson, a XORP developer. By comparison, a Cisco 7304-Cisco Systems’ highest-grade enterprise router with software forwarding-runs $22,000.”

It is still early days for XORP and the platform still needs to address performance and security issues, but the point is that any software product with a large enough installed base can be vulnerable to open source competition. Speaking of open source software, MySQL just announced a new version of its database which has built in load-balancing and automated failover so it can be deployed in large transactional environments. This is a big deal and grealy expands the market opportunity for MySQL and will better position it against Oracle and IBM. One other open opportunity for attack in the database market is the reporting and analytics end. One of my portfolio companies which I have written about before, Metapa, is leveraging open souce technology, mainly Linux and PostgreSQL, to deliver terabyte-scale data warehousing on a cluster of commodity hardware. The secret sauce is its proprietary Linux database clustering software which is “purpose-built” for Business Intelligence. In early benchmark tests, the product has shown up to 10-50x performance improvements over existing data warehouses run on traditional enterprise systems. So if I were an incumbent, I would be concerned about these developments. The post Open source Router? Open source moves up the stack? appeared first on BeyondVC.

Staying close to your customers with blogs and RSS

As I have said a number of times, I am a big believer that companies should start looking at how to use new technology and standards like blogs, wikis, and RSS/Atom from a product perspective and not solely for news publishing and aggregation. What do I mean by that? In response to a post I wrote about why I blog as a VC and the benefits of it, Brandon Wirth sent me a link to a piece he wrote about the future of customer relationships. In it, he summarizes by saying:
In the very near future there will be a trend to use Social Networking to create product communities. This will replace focus groups, and market research trends of today with direct interaction with those most likely to buy a given product. This is the American Idol for big business. Instead of trying to pick what the best solution is and betting the farm on it, you let the market pick a winner for you and they will already love the product before they have it. The focus becomes on the end user. They feel ownership in the creation of the product, and already know they want it.
Not sure I agree on the “American Idol” for big business, but the point of staying close to the customer is an important concept. I certainly see a world where companies use new technology and standards like blogs, wikis, and RSS to build a relationship with its users and to empower them to participate in a company’s success. This conversational based approach to dealing with customers is a great and EASY way for companies to share information on new features and releases and get constructive feedback on their products, receive new ideas, and frankly hear about the gripes. All this should help companies build a better relationship with customers and gather real-world data. While the example Brandon uses is a consumer one, I also greatly believe that this applies to infrastructure software as well. As I mention in an earlier post, it is too easy for companies to get enamored about their technology and to forget that end users need a great experience. Building fanatical user communities is not a new idea, but the point is that new standards and technology make it easier for companies to create, manage, and leverage them in a frictionless and organized way. Along these lines, Jeff Nolan just put up a new post on his LinkedIn experiment. And in it, he praises Reid Hoffman, CEO of LinkedIn, for paying attention to blogs and dealing with Jeff’s experiment in a highly positive way. I encourage reading this post as Jeff has some great comments on how Continue reading "Staying close to your customers with blogs and RSS"

Hiring Talented Sales People

As you can see, I have been spending alot of time with my portfolio companies hiring in a number of functions to create growth. That is obviously a good sign. Hiring is such an important skill, there is no science to it, but research and common sense help. I am sure you remember the old adage, hire slow, fire fast. Anyway, when it comes to sales people, let me give you a rule of thumb-never hire sales people that have stuck around in a declining business for too long. Any sales person worth his weight wants to be where the action is, and if the company is not growing, the TALENTED PRODUCERS ALWAYS LEAVE FIRST. It may sound like I am being master of the obvious, but sometimes it is hard to remember this, especially since many sales people interview well. Do your research on their background and the companies at which they worked. Be extremely careful about the candidate that rode a company from $40 million of revenue down to $10 million because you can bet that if the guy was hungry and talented, he would be somewhere else! The post Hiring Talented Sales People appeared first on BeyondVC.

Building your business around customers (continued)

Forgive me for being obsessed with customers, but after all, without them, how can you have a business. Anyway, I was interviewing a VP of Engineering candidate for one of my portfolio companies, and when I asked a question about the most significant lesson that he learned from one of his prior jobs, this was his thought-while the core technology is important, focus on providing the customer with an unbelievable user experience straight out of the box. What will the customer see and touch first. Start with the installation process. Make your product the easiest to install. If it goes smoothly and quickly, if you can do it plug and play or remotely, the customer will already begin to have a pleasant experience with your product. Make the GUI as user-friendly as possible. If it is as intuitive as using your email or browser, then it will make it easy for the customer to get the team using it with minimal training. Finally, make it easy to manage. Have a nice management console that allows an end user to administer the system, update it, and manage multiple licenses as simply as possible. So while having great underlying core technology is important, everyone will be selling technology and features and function. What many companies forget early on is that having a great customer experience can provide real differentiation and can often mean the difference between success and failure in competitive markets. As for the VP of Engineering candidate, he is on the shortlist as it nice to see someone with the experience to build product and manage teams but also think from a business-oriented perspective The post Building your business around customers (continued) appeared first on BeyondVC.

Why I blog as a VC?

Recently, a number of people asked me why I blog as a VC. Isn’t privacy a good thing for VCs? Don’t you want to keep the good ideas to yourself? For the past couple of years, I had my own personal blog which I mainly used as a bookmarking tool so I could retrieve interesting news stories and my running commentary from any web browser. As I made the leap to the public blogging world, I really did not know what I would find until I threw myself out there. So, after my first 6 months or so, here is what I like about blogging. Blogging provides me with an outlet for my views on technology, venture capital, and other current affairs. Yes, like most VCs I am opinionated, and what better way to express them than through a blog. Instead of beta testing a product, I get to beta or alpha test my opinions or thoughts and receive instant feedback no matter how far-fetched my ideas may be. I find this incredibly valuable as a number of people either email me directly or post comments and tell me I am off the mark, on the mark, or point me in new directions to further research my ideas. People send me information about new companies or even their resumes based on some of my current interests. As a VC, this is a great way to have an ongoing dialogue with an active and participatory audience. BTW, any product companies out there should think about using blogs and other technology like RSS to build long-term relationships with their customers and get instant feedback on product direction and features. Secondly, based on my posts, I have built some new relationships by engaging in conversation either directly or indirectly through my blog. Last week at DEMO, it was actually nice to have met some of the bloggers that I regularly read and with whom I share similar interests. Next, understanding the value of the blog, I actively read and subscribe to a number of other people’s feeds to learn about the hot topics of the day and to understand what the early adopters are currently thinking before a new technology or idea goes mainstream. I get to listen and participate in on the conversations about the next product or idea that will reach the tipping point as many of today’s innovative thoughts gather steam and build momentum through a word-of-mouth or word-of-network manner. Of course, the danger can be drinking your own kool-aid from the blogger community (think Howard Dean-he seemed really hot with the bloggers but did not fare so well in the primaries) so some balance is required here. Finally, it Continue reading "Why I blog as a VC?"

Demo reflections

I try to limit the number of conferences that I attend every year to a handful. Besides Esther Dyson’s PC Forum, there are few others that I like to attend regularly. However, I have to say that Chris Shipley’s Demo was a great show. Read more about it on Ventureblog. Being on the east coast, it was great to catch up with a number of west coast VCs that I have not seen in awhile. Sure there were lots of great companies at the conference, but getting together with the other VCs to trade notes about deals that were in our pipeline was extremely valuable. For any company raising capital these days, it was clear to me that we are all eager to put money to work. There were all flavors of investor interest, some were excited about mobile telephony and cell phone games, others continued to like security and data center-related deals, while some liked consumer deals. The common theme I heard echoed from all of us was that management was key. When someone brought up a deal, it was not long before management was mentioned and in the context of how successful they were in prior startups. Yes, this is nothing new, but I thought I would just reiterate how important it is to have the right team and prior experience really helps! It was also clear that many of us were interested in blogging and understood the groundswell building but were not quite sure how to capitalize on that from an investment perspective. So all in all, it was a great conference and one that I plan on attending next year. The post Demo reflections appeared first on BeyondVC.

Demo Day 2-@Home/Collaboration

The morning is off to a great start with a few home networking/digital media boxes for consumers. The battle for the home is in full swing between MSFT’s vision of the PC as the gateway to the home and companies like Akimbo, BravoBrava!, and Molino Networks bringing full digital media management to the set top box. It is truly quite amazing how much functionality continues to be added to these consumer devices, and how easy they make it for the consumer to view, listen and share their CDs, DVDs, downloaded video, and pictures. See Jeff Nolan’s blog for more information. If I were Microsoft and Tivo I would be worried. One of the problems with collaboration via Webx and Placeware is that it is still not easy to use, the pricing is not friendly, and it requires users to schedule meetings in advance. Today’s companies, Convoq, Sightspeed, and GoToMeeting (Expertcity-a portfolio company) are all designed to allow users to take advantage of the daily, ad-hoc and spontaneous meetings that are not currently captured by the incumbents. Not only do they bring disruptive technology to the market making it incredibly simple to organize meetings and web video conferences but also disruptive pricing to increase usage. So if I were Webx and Placeware, I would keep an eye out for these companies which will allow users to host unlimited meetings for fixed monthly costs. The post Demo Day 2-@Home/Collaboration appeared first on BeyondVC.

Demo Day 1 Recap

Day 1 is about over and after having sat through a number of interesting pitches, it is funny to hear the PR folks saying that many of the journalists are more interested in consumer/web-oriented companies than the enterprise-related businesses. Has the pendulum swung back to the consumer and web? It seems to me that home entertainment, wifi networks, and blogging are all the rage these days. And yes, they are hotbeds of innovation. Recently enough, the idea of VCs getting excited about the web/consumer area was contrarian, and now I am sensing it is not that way anymore. OK-I loved alot of the discussion in the morning and the agile enteprise afternoon session wasn’t as enlightening as I hoped, but there were definitely some interesting companies that presented. One is Metapa (full disclosure-a portfolio company) which is bringing the power of commodity computing (Lintel) to the data warehousing market allowing companies to realize 10-50x price performance over the standard Teradata, Oracle, IBM and Unix $1mm+ systems. Another interesting company was IMlogic which has a platform to allow you to integrate existing enterprise applications with IM. The post Demo Day 1 Recap appeared first on BeyondVC.

Demo 2004

I am at Demo 2004, and it is great to feel the positive buzz in the room. There are lots of VCs and press in attendance, and it is clear that entrepreneurship is alive and kicking. In fact, it never went away as a number of companies that presented in the morning have been around for a few years. Hopefully, I will get a chance to post on some interesting companies and technologies that I see but for now please stay on top of Demo through Jeff Nolan’s Day 1 posts. The post Demo 2004 appeared first on BeyondVC.

Want to be your own long distance player?

Ted Shelton has a great post about the economics of VOIP. According to Ted it does not take a lot of money to get your own long distance company up and running, say $8k of capital equipment costs not including the variable cost of running T1 lines, etc. If I can now take open source software (Asterisk), off the shelf Lintel boxes, and cheap cards to manage the T1 PR1s to interconnect with the public telephone network, and for $8k upfront be my own phone company, that is a scary proposition. Of course, this is oversimplifying the matter as it does not include the expense of sales, marketing, and customer support. However, this is yet another example of a broader trend, the commoditization of hardware and software. There are no sacred cows here. Even expensive telephone gear and equipment is at the mercy of the open source and Lintel movement. The post Want to be your own long distance player? appeared first on BeyondVC.

Tapping the Chinese marketplace

While tapping the growth of the Chinese market sounds like a good idea, a fellow VC who just got back from a trip to Beijing and Shanghai says he completely understands why his companies are not getting any real traction in that market. Besides the highly politicized nature of business, there is a pervasive “catch me if you can” philosophy inherent in the economy. Think about it-moving from a world where the state owned all enterprises to a hybrid form of capitalism is not easy. In the past, it was always the people versus the government, and therefore there was little respect for financial instruments like debt. It did not matter if you defaulted because you would be bailed out anyway. Extend this same thinking on debt into the private market, and you get a system that does not function well. Therefore alot of business is done cash on delivery as business credit does not exist. Throw in lax IP laws and the fact that China is thousands of miles away from the US and you get a difficult market to operate your business. So the next time someone tells you that they will get x% of the market in China, remember how difficult it really is to operate in a far away land with different rules of engagement in the business world. This will obviously get better with time. The post Tapping the Chinese marketplace appeared first on BeyondVC.

Building your business around customers

Fred Wilson has a great post about building a “customer-obsessed company” as opposed to a “technology-obsessed company.” This is good advice and reminds me of a number of companies built during the bubble period which were technology companies in search of a problem to solve. For early stage companies building their business, some of Fred’s advice includes investing “in the customer facing side of the business and in particular account management and customer service which are the “eyes and ears” of the organization and in product management (the “soul” of the organization) to synthesize this feedback into new and better products.” One important point when working with customers is to make sure that you do not support too many “one-off” requests. You must be extremely careful to make sure that the features and fuctionality that you build are “market-driven” meaning a number of customers or prospects support them versus one-off deliverables. I was just at a board strategy session with one of our new investments where we are in the process of ramping up the business. As we reviewed the 2004 budget and dove into the technology department and product deliverables for the year, it was clear that the developers were getting pulled into many different directions. This is a common problem. Many companies that bootstrap their businesses tend to have developers acting as presales support, post sales support, and customer service. Every second a developer is out helping with a customer is a second not focused on advancing the product. Every second a developer is coding is time not spent answering customer support issues. As you ramp, this is not an ideal solution. So our recommendation was to make sure that the company created a separate presales group/sales engineering group to work with the sales team and to make the investment now to create a separate customer service organization to build for the future. As Fred mentions, too many companies overlook the customer support side of the business. Many times, putting the right customer support processes and organization in place early can mean the difference between success and failure. And yes, product management is an incredibly important role to fill early on in a company’s life. This function should serve as the intermediary between market and customer requirements and engineering. If you have someone too close to sales performing this function, you may end up with a focus on short-term results where too many one-off requests are made to just close a deal. If your engineering handles this, you may end up with an over-engineered product that does not meet customer needs. Your product person should be in marketing with significant experience balancing the short-term and long-term Continue reading "Building your business around customers"

The VC/entrepreneur relationship

Many of you have heard the analogy that the VC due diligence process is like dating and getting the investment is akin to being married. For all of you in relationships, you also understand that honest and open communication is one of the keys to success. Similarly, the VC and entrepreneur relationship should be built on the same foundation. Trust me, I know when one of my portfolio companies closes a new and important deal because good news always travels fast. However, bad news does not travel so fast. I urge the entrepreneur to share the bad news just as quickly as the good news. Why? If you tell the VC sooner rather than later, we can help. If you have an experienced VC as an investor, you can bet that he has seen the movie before and at the very least can offer advice and words of wisdom to help you in your decision making process. If you wait for the board meeting, it is too late for us to have any impact. Secondly, VCs don’t like surprises. Err on the side of too much communication initially than too little. Sure, we won’t be happy with bad news. We’re even unhappier about bad news when we are told at the 11th hour with no ability to influence the decision. You can tell alot about your VC by his demeanor when confronted with tough and unexpected negative situations. In fact, in your investment process, ask yourself this question, “When things are going bad, is he going to roll up his sleeves and help or simply yell and bark orders.” As Clint Eastwood said in the movie The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, “There are two kinds of people in this world. Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.” Hopefully, you won’t have the VC with the loaded gun, but rather the one who will pull out a shovel and help. The post The VC/entrepreneur relationship appeared first on BeyondVC.

Mydoom and securing the perimeter

As I said before, if you want to stop blended threats like Mydoom and others, the best way to do so is to secure the perimeter by preventing an attack before it has a chance to infiltrate your network. That is best done on the edge, IN FRONT OF THE ROUTER, but for a number of reasons no one has attempted it. Of course, if you tried to do it on the router it would degrade performance 60-70% which is not a good solution. One other big issue is having the scalability to inspect every packet entering and leaving a network (router) with minimal latency. Finally, being able to effectively detect and prevent anomalous traffic from entering a network requires sophisticated algorithms. You have to have minimal false positives and no false negatives. In other words, the last thing a Chief Security Officer wants to be blamed for is screwing up a large multi-million dollar transaction for a business unit by blocking it from entering or leaving the network. Therefore, many CSOs are willing to just have the detect function turned on instead of solely relying on technology to make decisions about what is good and what is bad traffic. Of course, given the proliferation of complex viruses and blended threats, we are seeing more and more security teams moving from detection to prevention. Before we dive further into securing the perimeter, let’s first understand how Mydoom works. Mydoom is a mass-mailing worm that attempts to spread via email and by copying itself to any available shared directories used by Kazaa. The worm harvests addresses from infected machines and also tries to randomly generate or guess likely email addresses to send itself to. It also leaves a backdoor wide open for hackers to take control of the machine to steal user information or start spam campaigns or DDoS attacks. The kicker is that these new viruses typically send email messages using a built-in messaging or SMTP system bypassing the normal messaging host on a computer and therefore bypassing any antivirus software you may have installed. This sounds pretty nasty, doesn’t it? The amount of inbound and outbound email traffic can easily bring your network down leading to lost revenue and lost productivity. The fact that it leaves a back door open for nefarious uses could be even more damaging. For example, someone could use millions of infected computers to launch a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack on you bringing down your transactional web site. In my opinion, an effective security solution would sit on the edge, prevent anomalous traffic and malformed packets from entering or leaving a network, and provide capable antivirus technology. In other words, you would Continue reading "Mydoom and securing the perimeter"

Reading the tea leaves-correlation between employment growth and IT capital spending

As you know, I like to stay abreast of the economy and IT spending, searching for leading indicators of how the markets and my companies may perform in the future. It is clear that given the current market, people are quite excited about the prospects of IT spending growth in 2004. Given that backdrop, I found an interesting graph in this weeks Goldman Sachs Software Scoop report it_spending.jpg showing the linkage between employment growth and IT capital spending. According to Goldman, this graph shows “companies are likely to view tech capital spending the same way they do employment–add when you are confident of the sustainability of the recovery and only when you have to.” As you can see, there is pretty close correlation between the two sets of data. What it tells me is to keep a close eye on employment data and potentially use that as another leading indicator for IT capital spending. When companies are feeling good about themselves and the economy, they spend more. It will be interesting to see how this graph looks in the future as more companies look to outsource non-core capabilities and continue to cut costs and improve earnings. For example, will capital IT spending begin to spike above employment growth in the next 5 years and by how much? The post Reading the tea leaves-correlation between employment growth and IT capital spending appeared first on BeyondVC.

Sales Forecasting-a blend of art and science

I was quite frustrated recently when one of my portfolio companies presented the board with a 2004 revenue forecast which was not based on reality. While I am not a sales expert or spreadsheet jockey, there are 2 important factors to consider when building a sales forecast-ground it in reality and use a handful of simple assumptions so you can manage your key resources, people and cash, appropriately. Yes, there is always a mysterious aura about forecasting sales, and it is alot of art, but to the extent you can bring some science and process into it, the better off you are. Many companies subscribe to certain methodologies to better quantify a sales pipeline such as Solution Selling or Targeted Account Selling. What I do not like are percentage closing numbers randomly assigned to prospects where a number like 80% probability of closing has no defined criteria and differs deal by deal based on feel. Here are a few simple assumptions I like to see that drive the sales forecast:
  1. Number of sales people
    2. Quota per sales person (usually overassign 10-15%)
    3. Average Selling Price (ASP)-in today’s market, you may see a small pilot deal followed 3 months later with a much larger sale (model this appropriately). If you take 2/3, you get an approximate # of deals you expect each sales person to close annually
    4. Sales cycle-how long does it take to close a deal
    5. Time for a sales person to be productive (usually around 4-6 months depending on maturity of product and market)
    6. Lead generation-how many new leads per month and what % becomes qualified leads
Too many assumptions and drivers in a model make it too complicated and too hard to use as a management tool. It should be easy for you to add a sales person, change the ASP, etc. and see how it impacts your sales. To ground it in reality, I like to take a step back from the bottom-up approach listed above and take a top-down view. For example, does this company have the resources to go from $1m to $4mm of revenue or from $5mm to $10mm? Is the market ready for this? Where will it get the leads? Is a $2mm quota for a missionary sale and market realistic based on past history, looking at other markets, and using public company comparables? One experienced VP of Sales told me that he likes to have a 3-4:1 coverage in his pipeline of 80% and above deals going into a quarter. Of course, the definition of 80% depends on what sales methodology you use, but the point is you should have quantifiable criteria where 80% could be defined Continue reading "Sales Forecasting-a blend of art and science"

Great web-based news aggregator

Like many of you, I suffer from information overload. I have a hard enough time keeping up with email, let alone the increasing volume of news and blogs. During the last 6 months, I have been experimenting with a number of RSS readers to aggregate my news. Some of the products include client software like Amphetadesk, FeedDemon, and Newsgator. FeedDemon was a nice product and was quite easy to use. Newsgator integrates with Outlook which on the surface sounds great but it ends up creating more email for you to review on a daily basis. The problem with the software downloads is that if you have multiple machines or travel frequently, you may not be able to access your daily reading. Lately I have used Bloglines and love it. It is web-based so I can access my information from any browser, it is free, has a great UI, makes recommendations based on my current feeds, alerts you when feeds are updated, and even allows me to add email subscriptions. With the email subscription feature, Bloglines gives you a one-time email address to subscribe to sites that do not offer RSS feeds while at the same time reducing your daily volume of email. It is great to see how many sites are offering RSS, and that we are all getting closer to the vision of having our own personalized newspaper. Even Yahoo has recognized this as it has been working to integrate external RSS feeds with MyYahoo. The post Great web-based news aggregator appeared first on BeyondVC.