Advice for Startups

MIT $50K Judges (for the entrepreneurship competition) give advice:

— Know your customers and your customers’ pain instinctively. Be absolutely clear about how you can uniquely mitigate their pain. (Mike Grandinetti, veteran entrepreneur and MIT Sloan School of Management senior lecturer)

— It’s customer, customer, customer. Find a customer for whom your product or service is a “must have” and who will buy again. (Joe Hadzima, Main Street Partners LLC and MIT Sloan lecturer)

— Clearly articulate your intellectual property strategy. Without that you won’t get any money. (Joe Capraro, partner at Testa, Hurwitz, Thibeault)

— If you can avoid raising venture capital, do so. If you need venture capital, raise more than you think you need. Either way, focus on sales and conserve cash. (Rich Kivel, CEO MolecularWare)

— It’s all about cash and cash management these days, as opposed to metrics like eyeballs or number of users. You have to know you’re going to make money today and not try and figure it out later. (Dan Roach, Brown & Brown, veteran entrepreneur)

— Know your competition and find examples of companies that have succeeded doing something similar to what you propose. Do this before writing a plan or trying to raise money. (David Stone, Managing Director, Flagship Ventures)

— Focus on your sustainable advantage: how you’ll respond to competition. That’s what gives a company life for the longer term. (Michael Feinstein, Senior Principal at Atlas Venture)

— Surround yourself with good people and let them do their jobs. Don’t get caught up in control issues. (Jon Gworek, partner at Morse, Barnes-Brown & Pendleton)

— Put your heart behind what you’re doing. If you believe in your product and its value to consumers, down to your soul, you can move people to action. (Dan Hart, CEO, Echo)

— You’ll be facing significant challenges. Get as much qualified advice as you can. (Bob Curtis, president & CEO, Histometrix)

Grid Computing

Thomas Myer has an introductory article: “If you can think of the Internet as a network of communication, then Grid computing is a network of computation: tools and protocols for coordinated resource sharing and problem solving among pooled assets. These pooled assets are known as virtual organizations. They can be distributed across the globe; they’re heterogeneous (some PCs, some servers, maybe mainframes and supercomputers); somewhat autonomous (a Grid can potentially access resources in different organizations); and temporary.”

IBM’s World View

In a single phrase: on-demand computing. News.com writes:

IBM CEO Sam Palmisano postulated that large corporate customers are no longer interested in investing in PCs or the latest servers. Instead, these companies want to obtain software, consulting services and back-end hardware in a holistic manner to help them automate business processes and make their overall operations more efficient–in other words, in the manner in which [IBM] specializes in.

“It has been product-centric, gizmo-driven growth, but that is not going to happen again,” Palmisano said. “This industry continues to be a growth industry, because it solves a very important problem: productivity.”

As a consequence of these trends, consulting and software for weaving together these organic systems will become a larger part of the profit pool in the industry. By 2005, these categories will account for 65 percent of the technology industry’s profits, up from 46 percent today. Servers, storage systems, PCs and components, meanwhile, will decline from 54 percent of the profit pool to 35 percent.

Email Status Tracking

I have often thought about this idea (but never got around to doing it!) The problem: how do you know if an email you’ve sent to someone has been read (and if so, when)? WSJ describes the solution:

Enter MessageTag, from New Zealand software-development company eCOSM Ltd. Install the MSGTAG software and, in most cases, it will automatically reconfigure your e-mail software to add a glob of code to the bottom of any e-mail you send (to those of you in the know, it’s an HTML image reference) which assigns the e-mail a unique ID number. When the recipient opens their e-mail, the glob of code sends a message back to the MSGTAG server, or computer. That computer makes a note of the ID, and the time the message was received. It then matches the ID with the MSGTAG user, and the matching e-mail, and notifies the user the e-mail has been opened, and when.

Handspring’s Tough Choice

WSJ writes about how “hit by downturn, tech firms are forced into tough choices.” It takes the case study of Handspring which eschewed its line of organisers for the unhedged bet on the cellphone/organiser combo. So far, the gamble hasn’t paid off.

Handspring quickly discovered its old business habits didn’t work in the cellphone industry, where mobile-service carriers control retail sales and insist on lots of special customized features. And demand for combination devices was slow to materialize.

Sales of Handspring’s new product, the Treo, have been sluggish, with about 180,000 sold since January 2002. The global market last year for Treo and its rivals was $1.4 billion, according to International Data Corp. — compared with $3.1 billion for the old-style organizers that Handspring tossed aside.

It is a choice we all face as managers in tech businesses. On the one hand is a business which is stagnating but can provide steady business, on the other hand is the unseen future. Which path do we choose? (And choose we must.)

TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: Building Blocks: Blogs

Let us begin by taking a look at the building blocks for the Memex. Later, we will see how these can be combined together to construct the Memex. The building blocks can be classified under three categories: Blogs, RSS and OPML. A number of technologies can be thought of as coming together in each of these three ecosystems to enable the construction of the Memex. Well begin with the Blogs Ecosystem.

Weblogs are personal journals, with links, comment and analysis. They represent the individuals likes (or dislikes). A blogger is making decisions about what to include on the blog, and where to link to. Links can be to other blogs as part of a blogroll or to specific articles from news media sites and blog posts as part of a blog entry. In each of these cases, there is a certain structure that a blog has, with the granularity of a blog is its blog post. A blog is created by using a blogging tool or service, like Userlands Radio, SixAparts MovableType or Blogger.com of Pyra Labs (now owned by Google). Every blog post has a permalink and can thus be referred by someone else.

Unlike websites which are self-standing and exist on their own, blogs are part of an ecology think of it as the blogosphere. Blogs point to other blogs. This enables us to think in terms of the neighbourhood of a blog a collection of blogs linked directly or indirectly with two degrees of separation. The analogy here is that we have friends, and these friends in turn have friends. A term used in this context is FOAF – friend of a friend. With blogs,it is possible to therefore do a scan of the blogosphere to search for both friends and FOAF for a given blog. This is what BlogStreet does here is an example of the neighbourhood of my blog.

Why is this important? Just as we are more likely to listen or turn to friends for advice and recommendations, the blog neighbourhood can be an important consideration when it comes to searching and finding appropriate content. It is a set of people we are more likely to trust than any other.

What is now required from each of us is to create a personal blog. For a start, it could just provide links to articles that we read and like, along with a blogroll. As a next step, it could fetch the articles that we like from some sources we know will not be available later. For example, stories from the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal become available for additional fees (even if one is a subscriber) after a specified time (7 or 30 days). What the personal blog tool could do is fetch the stories and archive them locally so that they are always available by posting them to the personalblog using the MetaWeblog API.

The potential of blogs was highlighted by Steven Johnson in an article in Salon about a year ago: The true revolution promised by the rise of bloggerdom is not about journalism. It’s about information management. The bloggers have the potential to do something far more original than offer up packaged opinions on the news of the day; they can actually help organize the Web in ways tailored to your minute-by-minute needs. Often dismissed as self-obsessed `vanity sites’, the bloggers actually have an important collective role to play on the Web. But they’re not challengers to the throne of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. They’re challengers to the throne of Google.

Tomorrow: Building Blocks: Blogs (continued)

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