Friday, 23 November 2012

Entrepreneurshit. A great blog by Mark Suster, recommended to me. I recommend it to you. If you're in business, this is how it is.

I just don't do this. Never ever. It's like a golden rule that I'd never steal someone else's blog and simply cut and paste it as if it was my own. And now here I am, doing just that.

But it isn't. It's by a bloke called Mark Suster. This is him.

And before you say it - Nope, never met him, never even heard of him. He's a one time business starter-upper and now a VC which in itself is a bizarre turn of phrase. I don't like VC's but I like Mark. 

In fact it was on LinkedIn that I was recommended his blog by Gene Murphy, himself a serial starter upper. And so I read it and thought, wow.

It's a terrific piece about starting in business and how it all goes wrong and how it goes well. Ups, downs, all of that. It struck a "true-to-life" chord with me and brought it back to me (even there, that's something I've stopped doing. When I'd read words "in quotes", I used to put my two hands in the air and move my fingers like rabbits ears). Absolutely it was me. 

It's kind of like you've just discovered that someone else also has that rare disease that you have and you instantly bond. I thought that when I read Mark's blog and if you're in start-up mode, you should read it too. It's all here. Entrepreneurshit. Yep, that's what it should be called. And whilst I think of it, if you're interested in Advertising, another great title which is a must read for all of you who think it's glamorous, Jerry Della Femina's book, "Don't tell my mother I'm in advertising, she still thinks I'm a piano player in a brothel". Now read on....

Entrepreneurshit. The Blog Post on What It’s Really Like.

It’s 4.50am. Sunday morning. And I couldn’t sleep. I have much on my mind since I just returned from a week on the road. 5 days. 3 cities.
Late night Mexican food. Beers. Airports. Delays.
I left on a Sunday. I had to miss a full day with my family, camping in the mountains. I returned home Friday night at 10pm – too late to see my kids.
I’m reminded of this feeling. It’s all too familiar. It’s what life was like as an entrepreneur. I didn’t sleep much back then. I was on the road much and I internalized much of the stress so that others didn’t have to.
And so it goes again. I’ve been on the road much of 2012 and part of 2011. According to the SEC we’re not allowed to market the fact that we’re fund raising, so I won’t. But for some strange reason they make you file your progress on fund raising, which is the widely picked up by the press. Go figure.
So it is now publicly known that we have closed $150 million in our 4th fund. Ok, well, it’s more than this but I’m not allowed to tell you specifics.  I plan to write about it early next year when we’re all through. We have a little more to go until the finish line. It has been a fascinating experience. But now you know why I’ve had many nights away, many airports and much time on the road.
And why I woke up at 4.50am. But this is nothing like the stress of being an entrepreneur. As I’ve written about before, You’d Have to be a Big Baby to Complain about Being a VC.
What’s it really like being an entrepreneur?
That was the topic of my keynote at Seedcon, an event hosted by the University of Chicago, where I am a  graduate of the MBA program.
I like to speak about this topic with first-time wantrapreneurs because if you read the tech press every day you’d get the impression that it all glamor. It’s not.
You’d imagine that every founder was getting rich. Actually, positive outcomes for founders are quite rare. You probably follow some high-profile entrepreneurs on Instagram and Twitter and see conference pictures of them in Davos, Mexico, Monaco or wherever. You might be psyched out into thinking you’re doing something wrong for being in your shitty little windowless office. Clicking on their glam party pictures. You’re not. You’re where you should be.
There is a difference between a Conference Ho and a successful entrepreneur. But it’s hard to know that from the press. From the Instgram and the Twitter.
As a startup founder you rarely have much money in your bank accounts. Neither in the personal nor business account. That’s stressful enough.
I recently had coffee with a young friend who just finished his first startup. It didn’t end how he would have liked. But he learned. And he’s young. And I’m certain he’ll bounce back.
He told me,
“I have $6,000 in my bank account. Throughout the course of last year I never had more than $8,000 in my account. 
I want to do this again. But I have to be careful. Maybe I need to do slightly later stage.”

He probably didn’t know but he has more in his account than most Americans so there’s that. He had raised nearly $500,000 from investors. Many are well known. He shut down his company gracefully and even thought it must have felt like a crap sandwich doing so I’ll bet his reputation is still solid with his backers.
Think about it – most entrepreneurs who manage to raise seed money or venture capital usually raise enough money for 12-18 months maximum. Many times it’s less. So at any given point you are likely operating with a maximum of 9 month’s cash.
And yet you have to ..
  • Recruit employees in the blind belief that the amazing job they’re quitting to join you will be worth it in the long run
  • Sign up customers who are paying you money for a service you can’t 100% guarantee is going to be operational for the full period that they’re expecting
  • Tell the press how great you are and hope that they aren’t publishing your obituary 9 months later rendering you a fool.
  • Tamp down the enthusiasm your naive family has about your “impending IPO” (honey, when can we buy shares? Uncle Morty wants to know) from “your successful daughter” (we’re so proud of her! she’s so successful! we always knew she would be. she was so precocious in high school. that’s my daughter – did you see her mentioned in the New York Times!) Shit, ma, stop sayin’ that. I don’t want you to have to eat humble pie with your friends next year!
  • Raise money. Need money. More money. Yes, please give me money. No, I don’t really know if I’m going to be able to return it. But without it I know I’m forked. I need it. So I’ll ask anyway and hope like hell I don’t have to avoid you at future cocktail parties. Quick – why don’t entrepreneurs celebrate when they raise money? Because they know that they’ve just signed up for much more obligation.
Early on in my first company I had an employee ask if it was a good time to buy a home. We had less than 6 months’ cash in the bank. I was pretty sure we were going to raise another round of capital. But not sure, sure. I mean you never know if your investors are REALLY going to keep backing you. And you can’t go around telling all of your employees your deepest insecurities about it or you’ll soon have no more of said employees.
Trust you? Yeah, I trust you. But why don’t you just give me the damn term sheet you promised so I can trust you even more.
You have secret doubts about your co-founder. She seems depressed. And she isn’t pulling weekends anymore like you are. I know, right? Total bullshit. She’s just not as committed as she once was. I don’t think she really believes any more. If I told my VCs would they then lose interest in our next round? Would they blame me? Would they back me or think I had gone off the rails?
So Facebook just announced that they’re going to compete with you. Apple announced that they’re shutting down your category. just bought your main competitor. Your main competitor just raised $75 million and took all of the oxygen out of the room.
Far fetched stuff. If you’re not an entrepreneur. If you’ve been one for a while you know how much you fear every WWDC. Every F8. Or DreamForce. What announcements are going to crush you? [I wrote about what to do when this happens here.]
My biggest fear as an entrepreneur? I was worried that I was going to get married and be on the altar unemployed. “There’s my son. He should have been a doctor like his father!” Truthfully, that’s one of the things that kept me going. I didn’t want to disappoint.
I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. My wife. My employees. The press who trusted me enough to report on our successes.
I didn’t want to disappoint my customers. People seldom understand that when enterprise customers choose your software it isn’t just a purchase order. It’s a human being inside the buying organization who has trusted you. He went to his bosses and asked for budget. He beat down the other factions that wanted to choose your competitor. He has staked his reputation on a project to use the software of some shitty 2-year-old startup company because he believes! In you.
So you ask why on Earth being a founder is stressful?
No, it’s not as bad as working in coal mines. But it is quite the roller coaster and the stress is real.  Some people love roller coasters. Others prefer a smoother ride.
One of the most asked questions I get about being a VC who was formerly  an entrepreneur is if I ever miss being an entrepreneur? Do I ever want to go back to it?
Of course I do! How could you not want to go back to it. It’s addicting. It’s an adrenaline rush like no other.
I often answer this way:
It’s like sports. If you have a chance to be on court and shooting 3-pointers as the game clock is winding down OF COURSE you still want to be on the court. There is no comparable feeling from the sidelines.
Yet one day you wake up and you realize you can’t run as fast as the young guys. You can’t quite hit the 3-pointers as often. Yes, you have maturity that makes you a wiser player. But you realize that you can be more helpful as a coach.
And yes, I sleep better at night as a coach. And I’m happy as a VC.
Remember that if you choose to be an entrepreneur or to at least try – it’s stressful for everybody who does it. Your competitors have just as much angst as you do. You read their press releases and think that it’s all rainbows & lollipops at their offices. It’s not. You’re just reading their press bullshit. They have their secret doubts. And they’re in their offices reading your press releases and wondering why life is much easier for you. And they’re fighting with their co-founders and struggling to ship code on time.
As I like to say, “we’re all naked in the mirror.” We stare at our own imperfections. And then we go out everyday and see everybody else in their fine threads and wonder why it’s much easier for them.
Being an entrepreneur is about finding your inner self confidence.
  • To be constantly told “it won’t work” but to keep plugging away anyways.
  • To be kicked a lot and still keep standing.
  • To hide your demons so that you don’t scare the bejesus out of your employees.
  • To inspire others to join your cause when by all rational accounts they should not.
  • And having the cojones to have them join you anyways. Pottery Barn rule. You hire them, you own them now. As in your responsible for these lines on their future resume. Don’t fuck them up.
  • To swallow your stresses and insecurities and keep your optimistic game face on in the office. And on your home front. Maybe even try to believe it in your own head.
  • It’s about wanting the right speaking slot at an important conference and hounding the organizer until he lets you do it.
  • It’s telling your creditors that you need 60 extra days to pay. Please. Yes, most entrepreneurs will be nodding their heads right now. Not fun, hey? But that’s what it takes.
  • Firing? Hell, get used to it. It’s a necessity. You better be good at it. Develop a thick skin for it. Not put off the difficult fires. You don’t have the spare budget to suffer fools. Hire fast, fire faster.
  • Friday night in the office while others are at the bar. Sundays in the back of a plane. Center seat. Smelly dude next to you.
  • Investor emails. They are forwarding you set another mother fucking link to an article about your competitors. And wondering why the hell are we not doing THIS like they are. Enough already!?! I told you not to worry about their move into Latin America. I promise you that won’t be a bit market for us. What? No, I’m not worried that they’re higher in the App Store charts than us. They’re paying for traffic. Paying I say! They can’t have a positive LTV on these downloads. You want me to throw around my money like that too, bro?
Hell, I send those emails. I’ll admit it.
Entrepreneurshit. It never ends. It’s not all glamor. It’s mostly not glamorous at all. It’s just something you have to do. Often because you’re unemployable. Your impertinence would get you fired in 2 days for telling your boss he’s a fuck wit. And it’s why you probably will quit on day 366 after the acquisition.
You’re unemployable. You’re an entrepreneur.
It’s not for everybody and you shouldn’t feel bad if you aren’t one of those that chooses this life. You’ll probably be healthier and wealthier. Despite the fact that only the Lotto winners get reported. Many more people play.
But if you do want to go for it, don’t wait. It doesn’t get easier later in life. It gets harder. You’re probably going to fail or have limited success. The math says so. So better that you try as young as you can when failure is easier to bounce back from. When you can wear it as a badge of honor.
I’m not ageist. I’ve backed several entrepreneurs in their forties. No problem. I’m just telling you that if you’ve never done it before and WANT to then the earlier you try, the better. That’s all.
Good luck. Enjoy the ride. I’ll be rooting you on from my far comfier seat on the sidelines. Secretly. Wishing. I were still in the game.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Online Holiday bookings in the US reports a surge. 51% buy holidays online now. If you're into travel, get online.

Com score, in its annual holiday retail data for online, is reporting a surge in spending on travel, online in the US.

In the first 18 days of November (the start of a traditional holiday planning season in the US, but not the peak which is more around Thanksgiving), 10 billion dollars had been spent on travel online. That's 16% up on last year. For the entire season, they're forecasting 43 billion usd an increase of +17%. A 4% increase was expected so it's way above.

It reflects really, a channel shift rather than a sudden boom in holidays. In other words, more people are turning to online booking - not that you didn't know it but it's now fairly proven with these numbers.

Gartner have already reported that 51% of holidays this year will be sold online. There's also a trend where 37% of people said they used their smartphone whilst in a retail travel store, to check prices and book online. I know, because I do exactly that in book stores. Basically shops are just becoming display counters for online shopping.

Amazon are actively pushing consumers into local stores to check things out and then buy online for example - a nice marketing twist.

Whilst these numbers are USA, there's no getting away from the trend. Travel will be bought online more and more and if you're selling holidays, you need to beef up that online presence - now. With numbers like 51% already booking holidays online, that will increase and there'll be very little left at retail level. The travel shop will simply not pay its way. And I've some experience here, having looked after the advertising for clients like Finnair, Stena Line, Panorama, Airtours, and so on, so I know their attitude to the web. And it's not healthy.

Interesting too, that for those of us who have booked travel online, such as flights only, with big airlines like Ryanair, Aer Lingus, BA, never hear from them. They have ALL your details and yet they never ever reach out to ask how you're doing, offer you an incentive or even just a Happy Birthday.

Yet they put their energies into lobbying about airport charges, thinking of new novelty (and offensive) ways to raise revenue and bitching about fuel hikes. When their real revenue opportunity is on their doorstep, at their fingertips.....


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Hewlett Packard announce loses of 8.8 billion. Another old world company misses the bus.

Another sign of the times, HP (Hewlett Packard) have announced very bad numbers. Whilst most were expecting a profit of 2.2 billion usd, it actually was a loss of 8.8 billion. Its shares are in downward mode nearly at 2001 levels.

Like Sony, Sharp, Panasonic and others, HP is again an "old world" brand that is being killed by lack of innovation in the digital space.

Blogged here and here

Acquisitions of Palm and Autonomy (which they paid nearly 80% more than the market cap at the time - 11 billion usd, last October) have gone badly. Last night they claimed Autonomy had overstated numbers and inflated values and to whit, they were informing the fraud office. The former co-founder of Autonomy, an Irishman, dismissed the claims and said the acquisition has simply been mismanaged by HP. However, either way HP didn't do their due diligence properly or are trying to divert attention following awful numbers. HP has shut down Palm. Those acquisition write-downs (5 billion) have contributed to these awful results.

But they do not account for the revolving doors of CEO's, constant management turnover and poor product design/marketing. Poor form too of Meg Whitman current CEO (and former head of Ebay) to blame past colleagues for the Autonomy purchase yesterday when it was approved by the overall Board who are still there. Nor the reductions in net revenue - which is where Whitman should be focused, surely. After all, it's the 5th straight quarter of decline.

Revenue in all its business units declined and most notably by -14% in its personal computing - the place where everyone else sees opportunity.

None of that has anything to do with Palm or Autonomy, now does it.

HP are now claiming that they're committed to "new products". A little after the horse has bolted don't you think? One analyst described it all as a "train wreck" on The headline in the HP story on Wall Street Journal is, "analysts throw in the towel". It has become hard to read company expectations with results like this which are so much at variance from expectations. And the brand is just, well, boring.....and I used to look after their advertising once upon a time.

Whitman said today that they were "one year into a five year journey" but I'd except to see a lot of people stop travelling. Notably investors and you'll now see downgrades and sell/neutral recommendations.

So many times I've blogged and blogged about companies like these.
They just don't get the revolution that's upon them and don't get on board. With about 300,000 employees they've already planned to shed 27,000 whom deserve better which you can read here

What a pity for what was once, a great company.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Coke on YouTube. Super campaign gets 3+ million views since Thursday. See it here.

You may have seen the Coke "happiness" 2010 on-street campaign where a truck dispensed cans of coke to passers by with something else to cheer them up - a football, flowers etc and filmed their reaction. Kinda' candid-camera but very effective.

Now they've done it again for the launch of the James Bond movie 'Skyfall' called 'unlock the 007 in you'.

Surprising in that it was in Antwerp in Belgium, the world's second most boring city after Brussels. Apart from giving out free Coke they also sent passers by on a "mission" to get something more - limited edition tickets. The public reactions were filmed and went on YouTube getting 3 million views since Thursday - another viral with 98% 'likes'.

As the public went to get their Coke, a violinist played the James Bond theme. As they were given tasks, various obstacles were put in their way. Told, for example, to "go to platform 6", a floor cleaner blocked their way or a girl called them by their name enthusiastically (if you know what I mean). A fruit seller spilt their oranges, or a group of joggers came up the stairs at the same time. You get the idea.

It's pretty effective in giving us a smile as well as a video to pass around to friends. Using too, its 53 million Facebook fans, it has an immediate way of spreading the word. By the way, Disney by comparison, has only a paltry 38 million fans on Facebook.

The video too, then turns viewers into Facebook fans itself - an additional 400,000 last week alone.

So all in all, a good way of using video on YouTube as well as social media. And doing a great job for the brand although I don't like saying it on behalf of a brand like Coke. But fair is fair.

It points to interesting ideas online and great promotional ideas as well as avoiding the cliched and done-to-death, flash mob. Please, enough already.

Relatively inexpensive too and that adds to the whole concept.
Good ideas don't have to cost a fortune and if it brought your brand 400,000 followers a week, how else could you achieve that except online. 


Monday, 19 November 2012

YouTube's online TV. 100 Stations reduced to 30 after one year. They are getting ready and will be the new global TV broadcaster. Have no doubt.

In order for YouTube to enter the broader world of broadcasting, it needed to encourage content suppliers and did so through its 100 "premium channels" concept. The intention was to encourage speciality programming which might compete with terrestrial television. 100 channels got 1 million usd each. "SourceFed" looks like the winner.

A year later in the 100 million usd experiment, it's about to pull the plug on 70% of the channels and withdraw funding from them. 

What YouTube have done is to look at the viewership levels, look at the cost, and then determine which channels give the best return. So out of a 100 channels, they reckon a year in, that 30 are doing the job effectively and 70 just haven't made it.

Some of them were of course, just crazy. Like the channel dedicated to Al Gore....but if they end up with 30 channels that are viable in terms of audience and cost, that's a result.

And a review like this makes sense further enhancing YouTube's reputation as being serious in the broadcaster space.

Some of the channel are getting 3-6 million viewers a week which no standard broadcaster can compete with. Online will bring in that level of audience so that even speciality programming can attract in huge numbers.

And are the traditional Irish broadcasters experimenting with YouTube? No. Are they experimenting online? No. They think that simply by rebroadcasting their daily content through an online player, is a strategy. It has become as ludicrous as that.

I've said it before, I'll say it again - TV broadcasters are getting stuffed online and as more and more devices that facilitate online TV come into the market, the more stuffed they're going to get. And they've not a clue. Not an idea as to what is going on.

Notably, as we move into a new era of connected devices, the manner in which we consume TV will change 100%. Not only the manner in that the devices will change (which frankly is insignificant although the traditional broadcasters seem focused on it) but rather the style in which we consume it.

The online audience will look for better, niche content which broad market broadcasters will not be able to supply. They don't have the expertise for Social media, the platform, the financial resources (more ads means broad content) nor the skills (just look at their Facebook pages alone. Shocking) and in particular, they lack the understanding. Mostly, they've been propped up by Government for too long so as no longer to have a real commercial bone in their body.

So with competitors like YouTube, who have all of those skills but just need to develop the content, which they are, it's a great opportunity for YouTube to simply own the space. Own the platform.

They're not there yet....but they are getting there.