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Maaxi taxi sharing is real competition for Uber September 30, 2014

Posted by Bernard Lunn in Uncategorized.
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I love free market competition, but something about Uber makes me queasy.

It is not the bare knuckles competition against Lyft. That is just how the game is played. Asking Uber to be more gentle on Lyft would be like the prop in a rugby scrum being told he should be gentle on his opposite number. Break the rules and the ref will call you out, but otherwise it’s ok.

What makes me queasy is the implicit assumption that the customer is King, Queen, Judge and Executioner.

We are all producers before we are consumers. If we are not producers, we have no money to be consumers (leaving alone for now the twin poles of trust fund inheritors and welfare recipients).

So the consumer King must be balanced with the producer Queen.

When producers who have been protected by regulation call “no fair” I am unsympathetic. Producers need to face competition head on. Regulating Uber out of the game is no answer.

That is why the Maaxi launch today caught my eye. This story has three pieces you don’t normally see together:

1. A “red in tooth and claw” capitalist (Nate Rothschild).

2. The legacy protected producer (Black Cab drivers in London).

3. A disruptive proposition. This is disrupting the disrupters. The proposition is to share a ride with somebody going the same way. Given how expensive taxis are in London, this is a big deal.

Tube/Subway fares have risen as well. I read this on a Tube ride costing me nearly $5. If three of us shared a taxi costing $15….

I am rooting for Maaxi.

#InternetOfThings can leave my fridge alone but I would love it to manage my overly complicated light bulbs #SensorInsights August 12, 2014

Posted by Bernard Lunn in internet of things, Uncategorized.
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The fridge alerting the grocery store that my milk is low or old does not excite me, but if somebody figured out a service to manage those now overly complex light bulbs, I would be a “customer-in-waiting” and I suspect there would be others like me.

Warning, curmudgeon alert. Do you remember when light bulbs were one kind only? You just kept a few in a cupboard and replaced when needed. Now there are so many variants that I would need a whole lightbulb store in my house to do the same; believe me I have tried.

For an #InternetOfThings entrepreneur, this is easy stuff. The lightbulb that is nearing the end of its life sends an order to the store (based on a mandate I have given as a consumer to do this) and the right bulb arrives with a little map showing where it goes and I replace the bulb.

For wealthy people, vacation homes and offices, you could layer on a service for somebody to replace the bulb.

The Content Quality Dilemma in the Media Business July 28, 2014

Posted by Bernard Lunn in Uncategorized.
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Software is eating the world….one bite at the time. Are you Softzilla or are you Softzilla’s lunch?

The first bite was the media business. I was there when it happened. It hurt.

Softzilla (my shorthand for software, digitization, mobile, big data, etc etc) first bit into the print business. At the time I was running a startup that saw this coming and was helping traditional media firms to restructure, take out costs and become “online-first” firms.

In the print to online transformation, the mantra was that “$1 of print revenue becomes 10c of online revenue.” So, yes, you had to make the transformation, staying in print only was certain death, but you had to cut costs (translation: fire lots of people) to go online. Everybody had read Innovator’s Dilemma; it was obvious what had to be done. Online, with tose 10c of revenue, you could not afford lots of editors and people doing fact checking and research. So you cut into the muscle and fired the people who ensured that content was high quality, those well-paid journalists and editors, fact checkers etc. The content quality then, predictably, suffered and the audience clicked away.

Cut too slowly and you died fast. Cut too fast and you died slowly. This is what I call the Content Quality Dilemma.

The next startup was smaller but better known; it was ReadWriteWeb (now ReadWrite) where I was COO in 2009.

There was no Innovator’s Dilemma in ReadWrite. This was a pure-play online venture with low overheads (a global team all working remotely). However the dilemma was the same – how do you make enough money to pay for quality content?

In ReadWrite my COO job translated to a simple mission – sell enough advertising so that writers could get paid. That was where I saw the Content Quality Dilemma up close and personal.

The problem is very simple. It is that giant software only media firms like Google and Facebook set the rates for online advertising and with their scale and 100% automation (no messy journalists, editors and fact checkers who want to get paid) they can make huge profits on very low advertising rates. Those ad rates are too low to pay for lots of good journalists, editors and fact checkers.

In the tech blogging space it is easy to run this as an experiment. Take 15 days on a post with serious investigative journalism and analysis. Then take 15 minutes to dash off a post about a celebrity and use some pop-tech angle to make it tech relevant (the story is that the celebrity did something on Twitter or Facebook). The return on investment on that 15-minute post was stratospheric and the quality post was a financial disaster. Rupert Murdoch, when interviewed for this article, remarked, “what’s new buddy?”

This is now well understood. We are at the bottom of the Slough of Despond in the Media Business. Its not just the old pre web firms, its also the early web firms; look at the share price and derision hurled at AOL and Yahoo. They are both run by super-smart, driven CEOs who had big success at Google, but they are “rolling a rock up a hill”.

Most of the entrepreneurs who got early into the blogging game already exited, took the cash and left the owners figuring out how to climb up to the Plateau of Productivity – which some of them will do. There is a demand for Quality Content. The only job is figuring out how to get paid properly for Quality Content.

If you work as a journalist or editor, you have probably seen that Content Marketing is where the jobs are headed. In other words, you work directly for the advertisers, cutting out those intermediaries (aka Media firms) with their old fashioned rules about Church vs State (aka Editorial vs Advertising). However what about the folks who are running Media Firms? How do they create both quality content and quality profits?

I decided to look at who is making quality content as well as quality profits. In those stories might be clues to show how to climb up that tough slope to the Plateau of Productivity (to see which of these are replicable and scalable).

  • Wired. This is one for irony aficionados, a glossy and profitable print magazine for the folks helping Softzilla to eat the world. My takeaway, we all need a pixel break, but I don’t expect many media firms to be able to emulate this. It has to be really, really good (and that costs money) and consumers only want one in their chosen domain. Not easily replicable, could translate to a few other domains.
  • AVC. This is Fred Wilson’s blog (he is a top tier VC). The content is daily and it is great. The takeaway, first make sure you are a good host to your community and then find a way other than advertising to make money. Not easily replicable.
  • Techmeme. Gabe Rivera bootstrapped a profitable online media business by first using Softzilla to find content and then hiring some old fashioned humans to help filter out the junk and float the good stuff to the top. I assume he tweaks his code to learn from what the humans do. This 95% code and 5% human model might be a mainstream model. Possibly replicab
  • Bloggers Selling Expertise. Why do smart people blog/write for free? It is the same reason that smart developers contribute to open source – their fee rate and utilization goes up because customers can see how smart they are. The economics of blogging for attention are simple. This is powering lots of tiny micro-multinationals in lots of niche markets. Replicable but not scalable.
  • Financial Time and Wall Street Journal with Paywalls. It works for them because “time is money” for their readers. I don’t see this as a mainstream strategy, because only the best of the best can get away with a paywall. Not easily replicable.
  • Vice Media. They started as an underground low cost fanzine type of operation and have over time built a valuable business that had Rupert Murdoch swinging by with his checkbook. The model seems to be lots of stringers out where the news is being made plus a few editors back at base. It’s an old model re-enabled by mobile technology (the stringer is no longer waiting in line for the telex machine in the lobby of the hotel). Possibly replicable, but needs skill, style and technology.

There are a few experiments with peer rating rather than popular rating. Popular rating is simple Page Views, the currency of the web that is controlled by Google and Facebook, it’s a game you cannot win. The two experiments with peer rating are Reddit and Hacker News. It is too early to see how these experiments turn out because neither has yet tried seriously to monetize their audience. If they adopt a mass-market page view strategy, their audience will click away and we will be writing Myspace like epitaphs.

However if they can find a way to charge based on influence rather than views they will show the way to lots of other media firms. This could be the yellow brick road for media. Recall that tech blog experiment:

“Take 15 days on a post with serious investigative journalism and analysis. Then take 15 minutes to dash off a post about a celebrity and use some pop-tech angle to make it tech relevant (they did something on Twitter or Facebook). The return on investment on that 15 minute post was stratospheric and the quality post was a financial disaster.”

Let’s say the 15 minute post got 100,000 page views and the 15 day post got 100 views. Case closed? No, not if 10 of those 100 views were partners in VC funds controlling $10 billion in aggregate funds and another 10 were CXO level in enterprises controlling $10 billion in aggregate budgets. How on earth do you monetize that without seriously invading privacy? If you have that one figured out, please contact me so that we can become disgustingly rich.

 

When Did Big Data Become Data Science And Does Anybody Care? July 26, 2014

Posted by Bernard Lunn in Uncategorized.
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I promise to keep this brief, it’s just an out take from another post I am working on. I have stopped seeing pitches for Big Data. They are now pitches for Data Science. Ho, hum, what’s the game? I think it is simply the realization that the “Big Data” roller-coaster is careening down towards the Slough of Despond. So you want to re-name it. 

I think Big Data is an enabler for Mobile, which is a real disruptive wave of change. Unless Big Data is delivered within context to what consumers need right now, it is just another “digital land-fill”. This will need major innovation at the mobile UX layer and at the back end computer science layer. 

 

My SAAS Writing on ReadWrite May 27, 2014

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I wrote a lot about SAAS on ReadWrite, this is just me being a diligent digital archivist of my own work. I trust WordPress to always be here in some form and to always let me be in control, so no reason not to archive here. Some posts are like looking at bad fashion pics, “you had to be there at the time” in order not be too embarrassed now. Some are keepers IMHO.

My Posts On SAAS for RWW:

Yammer: The Story Behind Their SaaS Traction

How Much Venture Capital Should You Raise For Your SaaS Venture?

Study: SaaS Pricing Is Still Opaque And Freemium Is Rare

10/28/09: Email + CRM + LinkedIn + Twitter = Hustler’s Power Drill
10/27/09: Calendaring, Scheduling Meetings: Timebridge CEO Interview Reveals Strategic Importance of This Space

10/14/09: Google Should Stop Playing Around With Wave and Focus on Spreadsheet

07/18/09: Who Is Pouring Enterprise Weedkiller and Why?

07/17/09: InterWest Partners: Investing in Enterprise SaaS

06/26/09: Why Enterprises Don’t Like SaaS

05/ 5/09: Where Is My Dashboard Aggregator?

05/ 4/09: Why Push Gmail for Blackberry Is a Big Deal

03/23/09: Salesforce.com Integrates Twitter
12/16/08: Top 10 Enterprise Web Products of 2008

11/20/08: 10 Things to Know About Salesforce.com

11/14/08: When The Browser Doesn’t Cut it: Basecamp’s Lack of Mobility

11/ 3/08: Facebook Puts On Suit, Dances With Salesforce.com
11/ 3/08: Salesforce.com Says Hello World

10/29/08: The New Stack: SaaS, Cloud Computing, Core Technology
10/28/08: Who is Not Afraid of the SaaS Wolf?

10/ 8/08: Why Some Traditional Enterprise IT Vendors Are Scared of SaaS

09/23/08: Zoho Part 2: The Cookbook

09/18/08: Zoho: The Little Engine That Could (Take on Both Microsoft and Google)

08/21/08: 11 Things Startups Should Know About Enterprise 2.0
08/20/08: Enterprise 2.0: The Nature of the Firm

08/13/08: Google Should Buy eXpresso
08/ 1/08: Breaking Free of Outlook

06/10/08: Where Are We in The Enterprise 2.0 Wave?

01/22/08: eXpresso Takes The Enterprise Route to Web Office

12/ 3/07: 2008 Will Be The Year of Business Networking
12/ 2/07: The Business of Teaching Elephants to Dance

09/ 9/08: What do CIOs Think About Social Media?
06/12/08: LinkedIn Could Replace Outlook and SalesForce

02/22/08: Why Google Apps is a Serious Threat to Microsoft Office

08/ 8/07: Who Will Be Your Web Office Provider?

 

The Small Business IT Revolution Will not be televised April 22, 2014

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We all love a David vs Goliath story. We want small businesses to prosper. Our economy depends on this. We want David to win, but today it looks like the score is 2 Nil to Goliath:

1 Nil: access to low cost finance (Fortune 500 can borrow at Libor Plus 2, SMB is more likely to get
Libor Plus 6 if they are lucky to get any financing at all).

2 Nil: low tax rate. The effective tax rate for Fortune 500 is around 12.6% vs the 19.8% that small businesses pay on average according to the SBA. That 7.2% difference is massive when you are scrabbling to be price competitive while maintaining reasonable margins.

The macro numbers reflect this. In 1954, Fortune 500 companies accounted for only 1/3 of GDP, but by 2000 that share of the pie had grown to 2/3. In those cold statistics lie a lot of Mom & Pop shops and family farms and shattered middle class dreams. Yet 50% of jobs are still in small business, so this matters to all of us.

2 Nil is tough, but it is not game over and small business will bounce back because of IT. Think about the iterations of IT and how they affected small vs big businesses:

– Mainframe/Minis: David did not get a shot at all. All the advantage went to Goliath.

– PC: Wordprocessing and spreadsheets empowered small business, but before the Internet, the PC was only marginally useful unless attached to servers and there the playing field was still tilted to Goliath.

– Web 1.0: only BigCo (or developer hobbyists or VC funded startups) could create an online presence.

– Web 2.0: we could all now write as well as read, but all we did with this new power was play and spend, we did not use this new capability to earn a living.

– Web 3.0: I define Web 3.0 not by any single technology innovation but rather by the ubiquity of digitization. Earlier IT was primarily about reducing G&A costs; if G&A is 10% of costs, even a big reduction in costs is not that big a deal. Today, when most of the 7 billion people on this planet have mobile phones, selling digitally is a big deal; the CIO has become the CMO because IT is about revenue acquisition.

Let me give three examples from my personal experience of hacking IT from components of the programmable web to create capability that was unthinkable for tiny new businesses even a few years ago:

1. An annual sporting event. In the first year we had zero budget for both IT and marketing. Never having written a line of code in my life, I was able to hack together a solution using a mix of WordPress, PayPal and EventBrite. It was not perfect, but I can already see the tools and features I will use next year (eg replacing PayPal with Stripe).

2. A sports training business. This has more admin complexity than the annual event, so I will be looking into really simple accounting systems such as Xero that play well with online marketing tools, so that we get as close as possible to straight through processing.

3. A niche electronics product used in sports training. Thanks to Arduino, building the first prototype can be as low cost as building a web site. That is a big deal, because consumers still expect to pay for a physical device even if they expect a digital online service to be free. Add Crowdfunding sites to get products into the hands of early adopters and we have a real revolution. This can enable hundreds of thousands of niche businesses.

A lot of the buzz about SAAS and Consumerization refers to the enterprise market but the real revolution is in small business.

SAAS reduces CAPEX, but enterprises don’t worry about CAPEX, they are loaded with cash, they worry about OPEX. However, small business worries about CAPEX; their cost of capital since the financial crisis is far too high. So SAAS is a big deal for small business.

Consumerization is a game-changer for vendors, but – viewed from the enterprise IT buyer’s point of view – it is simply out of control spending driven by employees using whatever they want and expecting the enterprise to pick up the tab at the end. However, for small business owners, who do IT in their spare time, consumerized digital services (no training costs or IT overhead) is a total game-changer.

Here is what I mean by “will not be televised”. The small business IT revolution will not generate stories about superstar entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg, it will be the untold stories of millions of small scale entrepreneurs. Nor will those stories, even in aggregate, be reflected properly in the sorts of numbers like GDP or Unemployment that are beloved of the economists and financial traders that we see discussing the stock market on TV: these data points reflect an Industrial Age which is passing.

Integration is key to this small business IT revolution. The first phase of this revolution is driven by tools that are designed like consumer services, they do one thing and only one thing very well. That is fine for free agents and entrepreneurs in the really early stage of a new business. Simplicity and low cost rule, we can use “digital sneaker-net” (aka copy & paste) for integration. However, as the business grows from one or two people working part time to a “real” business with employees, integration becomes key. Fortunately the Programmable Web with RESTful APIs makes this easy. So companies that work a lot with small business, like WordPress and Nimble, offer built-in integration with the other services that their customers want. If you used WordPress in your “ramen days”, will you desert it for an enterprise CMS when you grow? Or will WordPress continue to evolve to serve your needs and partner with others to fill in holes they don’t consider core? I would bet on the latter. If your favorite services don’t already work with each other, there are now services such as Zapier where you can integrate services yourself without writing a line of code.

Technology is also addressing one of the biggest issues for small business – working capital. If you asked most small business owners what keeps them up at night, the most frequent response would be “working capital”, the money you need to pay the bills as you expand. Here again, technology is helping in three ways:

1. “Spare change in your sofa”. New services such as AirBnB and Uber help people generate cash from spare resources (such as a spare bedroom or a few spare hours per day or week). This is a big enabler for ramen startups.

2. “Disruptive Fintech” services that byepass the banks such as Peer to Peer Lending and Crowdsourcing. If the banks won’t lend and you don’t have a buddy on Sand Hill Road, don’t give up, these new services have moved beyond the cool idea phase to viable alternative sources of capital.

3. “Just in time supply chains for the rest of us”. Michael Dell became one of the richest men in the world by building the product only after a) the customer had sent the money and b) the component vendors had sent the materials needed to build the product. Thanks to this innovation, Dell got rid of the “curse of inventory” and always had positive working capital cash flow. Thanks to the real time web, this kind of real time supply chain is now possible for any company. This disruption, what I think of as real time supply chain for Mom & Pop, is still nascent. (I would love to hear from startups innovating in this space.).

It’s 2 Nil and Goliath is looking cocky, playing to the crowd, he does not notice David with his IT slingshot.

30 second view on #flashboys April 1, 2014

Posted by Bernard Lunn in Uncategorized.
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Only from reading an online excerpt – and many years selling tech to Wall Street:

1. Rollicking good yarn, reads well (as always with Lewis).

2. Front running should be illegal no matter how it is done. For some bizarre reason front running using HFT tech is not illegal today. This book may help change that.

3. HFT kills day traders but is only minor loss for long term investors. Don’t think Buffet is worried by this.

4. Consumer loss of confidence in markets due to perception that they are rigged is the big issue, undermines a free enterprise society.

The Mobile Capability Maturity Model February 4, 2014

Posted by Bernard Lunn in Uncategorized.
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I like being out and about, dislike being chained to a desk so my iPhone is my primary work tool. My laptop is relegated to those things I cannot do properly on an iPhone (eg word processing and spreadsheets).

So I look at any productivity app through the lens of “how good is it on mobile?” I see three levels:

1. The Old Baseline is notification and reply by email. These are systems that somebody else chooses and I participate in the minimum possible.

2. An app that lets you do your daily tasks on a mobile device but which forces you to a browser to configure and set it up. This is the Modern Baseline.

3. An app that gets you configured and running in minutes all on a phone, no harder than a consumer app like Instagram. Trello is like this. This is competitive advantage today and will soon be baseline.

Pivots are usually for consumer ventures. This is what I learned leading an enterprise software pivot November 22, 2013

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The company had built a product for a market that evaporated after we had made a few big sales. I was given the job of finding another market. We had a great product that I could position as a framework, some superb developers and a management team committed to going the extra mile for clients (because company survival depended on them being happy).

All I needed were some problems to solve that were relevant to the technology we had.

A wise fellow suggested I go to the City of London as they have lots of money and lots of problems. That is still true today.

It worked. We found a market, closed a few deals to establish credibility in that market and rebuilt the company around that market.

I started with the usual “what keeps you up at night?” line of questioning. Through this I stumbled on a “blue ocean” market that was just emerging (blue ocean means that no other vendors were targetting the market, as the market did not yet exist, but a simple trend analysis indicated to me that a big market would emerge and it did).

I learned three things from this:

1. The technical killer feature was not what we all thought it would be. I came back from the first meeting a bit despondent, because the problem that the client had – which he had freely admitted was very difficult to solve as per all the tech advice he was getting – was not the problem that I had thought best suited to our platform. I was dejectdly chatting about this with one of the developers and he said “oh, that would be easy”. As the client had told me that he considered it tough to solve, once I had a solution the sale was relatively easy.

2. Once means nothing, twice is coincidence, three times is a trend. The first sale just showed what we could do technically. The market did not yet exist – it was only a gleam in the eye for a few people. So we simply delivered a custom project using our framework. The second sale was closer to the market that was emerging. Also on the second sale we turned it into something more like a product, by the usual productization techniques. The client was recognised as an innovator – “a name to conjure with”. Yet we still needed the third client, a more mainstream one, to prove to the market (which was starting to be perceived as a market) that we had a product. Also on the third deal/project we knew enough and were confident enough to really create a product. Then we launched and scaled from 3 clients to 30.

3. When you hit the mother lode, throway the pickaxe and find the money to get a backhoe. This was where we went wrong. We were a boostrapped company. We did OK, became #2 in a good market, got acquired. We scaled from 3 to 30 clients, even the next 10x to 300; but we stumbled at the next 10x. This is where today in America you get calls from Growth Equity Funds. This was in Europe and before Growth Equity was mainstream. We might have been first in the market, but another venture saw the big picture opportunity and seized it (they are now a multi-$billion public company).

Its harder today. There are lots of software ventures with sophisticated frameworks and great developers. The key is still the same – find a problem to solve in a blue ocean market, get three customers ready to rave about you, then scale to meet the opportunity.

Why I am addicted to Twitter but never got the Facebook habit November 21, 2013

Posted by Bernard Lunn in Uncategorized.
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1. No social pressure. You are not upset if I don’t follow you. The social scene in school kinda sucked, who needs that forever?

2. Funny. The hashtag humor around fast breaking events often make my day. It is a new art form.

4. People I wish I had gone to school with. I went to school/worked with some cool people, but sorry guys the Dalai Lama and Yoko Ono have more to say.

5. Lists. To quickly research a new subject, Lists are the best productivity tool since email.

6. Brevity is good. Nuff said.

7. The sense (false but still fun) that you are eyewitness to history (I woz there in Tahir Square from the safety of my armchair).

8. Filler

9. Filler

10. The journalist habit of 10 point lists dies hard.