Category Archives: meshconference

Mesh magic: Venture capital and Web 2.0

Mathew Ingram talks with venture capitalist and blogger Dr. Paul Kedrosky.

Cute snippet from the intro:

has an approach to blogging that I consider almost pathological. He said once that he wasn't going to blog because he was so busy, and then within the next hour he posted 14 items.

Is this another bubble? There's a lot of talk about Web 2.0, there are a lot of ideas going around, there are ideas that might not be good business, etc.

This morning I got a press release - and this is one of the perils of perpetual blogging, you get fifty press releases a minute - what was kind of interesting is that these guys sent me a release because they'd just got venture fund (overlay for Internet Explorer). This brings us full-circle to 1995, when we funded two browsers. Nexton(?)'s a great platform, but it's a front end. uestion about the bubble: it feels like one. It feels like we're reenacting things. But then, so what? I think there is, I think there's a lot of enthusiasm, but I also feel that it takes a lot of dead bodies to fill the swamp. We have to do this stuff. We're kidding ourselves if we think we get aces the first time. Make the same mistakes faster. ;) Part of my answer is yes, but so what? There's way too much enthusiasm. I see the same plan four or five times a day, which is crazy. There ware all these crosspollination things. There's the Flickr of video - but it's getting worse, really, now there's the YouTube of something else.

There are some great studies out there that go all the way back to the Dutch tulip bubble. It was a fairly rational response among policymakers who were responding to the tulip market. Options-based market. The outcome was nasty, but the process by which it got there wasn't nearly as euphoric.

One of the things that might be fueling the tiny bubbles is that there seems to be a lot of money and people wandering out with bags of money and they have to make investments because otherwise their money isn't accomplishing anything. "Here's some money, I don't care what your idea is or what."

Assets under management. There's as much money out there as there was at the bubble time, but it's just much more concentrated among the top VC firms. It's concentrated in what people deem to be the best firms. Problem is that in the VC world, there's an idea that the best is always the best. VC rigged - they fish a very well-stocked pond. It's a lot easier to look smart when you're working in an area where even bad decisions look good. The problem with everyone else in the VC market is that they're fighting for the scraps. I was talking to a manager of a SV fund last week. He had made a few calls among their limited partners on a Tuesday morning. Trying to put together 280 million. By the next morning, including faxes, three billion dollars committed. Concentration of capital, etc. Flooding into what's euphemistically called as alternative assets - private equity. Cash is falling into their hands. Lot of people with a lot of captial trying to find homes for it, and Web 2.0 and other companies...

If you can finance Web 2.0 companies on your credit card and you can use online services for all of your work, do you need giant sums of money that these VCs are handing out? In some cases, companies have decided not to go for VCs. Is that a problem?

If you don't need VC, don't go for it. Do something else much more notorious. That will give you more notoriety than taking money. If you can build a company that doesn't require capital and you keep all the stock, then go ahead and grow it. The trouble is that there are legitimately many businesses where that is not the case, and there are businesses that people think can grow without VC but they actually can't, and by the time they need it, they're in horrible horrible problems. A lot of the consumer-centric Web 2.0 companies, you can do them very cheaply.

I talked about getting your head up in the tagcloud. The idea of this democratization is that all these services that used to cost money are asymptotically approaching zero. As soon as there's an interesting opportunity, there are 30 people in it. There's no barrier to entry any more. Pecked to death by ducks out there. It's great that the cost to enter has gone so low that you can do it without venture money, so every monkey with a credit card is in the market.

Q: Given that it's so easy to start a company these days, it's amazing how these companies manage to raise all this capital without having a real business plan.

Most people believe they can flip it. YouTube is interesting. IP issues are there, of course. It looks to me like a very early mockup of what a television might be. There's more there to see than you see up front, and you need to figure out how people can pay for it, but yeah.

Can you do what they're doing, or say, like rocketboom, and then figure out the business model later?

I hate to use the G word, but there: Google. This was a search company with a great technology. The VCs had no idea what the business model was. They "borrowed" their business model. They had no idea when they started that they would turn into a rapidly growing company. Precedent well set. If you do something on a large enough scale, you might stumble your way into a business model. You had better have scale and a business that can run economically.

The problems Google has now is that (you've noticed the stock price is down, right?) they're starting to look like Amazon. Rate of capital expenditure related to growth. Maybe this problem of growing companies isn't as easy as they thought.

Q: Progression. Thinking 12 months again, what the shifts are going to be, Web 2.0 for the enterprise, do you see that kind of history repeating itself?

Absolutely. I use my inbox as a temperature indicator of what's going on out there, the stuff that shows up in unsolicited tags. Split between consumer-centric 99%-1% business, and now 60%-40%. The pendulum's already swinging, and the three most interesting companies I've seen in the last six months are all on the business side. They've got subscriber models, they're selling to people in business, and they incorporate intelligence.

... Most people use Microsoft Excel as a really crappy database. Let's just make shareable databases easy to use and stop them from bastardizing their Microsoft Excel.

Q: Examples of companies in this space that are profitable, that are making money? Good example: Google, how they monetized search.

I'll give you another Canadian example of a community-centric company that's insanely profitable. Plentyoffish.com. It's a really funky idea. We'll build a very utilitarian website so that people can discover each other and undercut the dating market. It's a very grassroots approach to breaking into a community market that's gotten stuck on the subscription model, introducing Adsense.

The idea of building communities. There are companies that are discovering that to keep costs down, if you can find communities of similar people, you can actually sell better keywords.

Q about VC in Canada. I've been talking to a bunch of entrepreneurs in Toronto. Hard to get attention from financing. What's your opinion on that?

Everyone thinks they have a seed capital gap. In the Valley, there's a perception that there's a lack of seed capital. I think that in Canada, there just aren't enough individuals who will go out and fill that gap. Economics of seed investing isn't very good. You can't get a return. Very hard under the current structure... Some people will selectively do seed investing, but they're not structurally supported in doing this. Seed captial as marketing sometimes works, too.

Q: While you can build a Web 2.0 company on credit cards, it's harder to build 5-year businesses. Is that where VCs can bring in a lot of value?

Most VCs in Canada and the US would like to find exactly those kinds of company and do the traditional kind of investment, putting money in over time. Recent experience is that businesses go to mezzanine financing. Where do I jump in? Too early - broken business model. Late - competing against big mezzanine private equity funds.

Q: Browser was a feature, not a product. When I hear you talking about (?) getting funding, and that's just an overlay on Internet Explorer... How many of these businesses are features, not products?

Plausible deniability. Nonsense like that is getting acquired. Some of the larger companies are passing off featres as products, and the line is getting really blurry.

Q: Often talked about: Skype. What's your business model? Cast a big net out there and hope you get people. Small risk, calculated one. Are there enough technology people, you normally see us business types...

eBay acquisition of Skype. Game-changer. That's huge. You can see all the heads swinging toward VOIP. It absolutely focuses peoples.

The death of the IPO. It's a sad event, it's very traumatic, but it's caused a lot of change. What they've had to do is run an acquisition game for exits. As soon as they've seen a big acquisition that's on par with what they've gotten from IPOs, etc...

We're now back at the level of online advertising that we were in 2001.

Q: Disproportionately small number of business and consumer companies in Canada.

That's an interesting question. Putting it in VC terms... Getting that pace of deal flow is so different from what it's like in the US. US, exploding with flow, numbers game. While it's up, it's still much lower on a per capita

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Random Japanese sentence: 猫がバスの真正面に走ってきてひかれた。 The cat ran right in front of the bus and was run over.

Mesh magic: Tara Hunt fangirling

I am a fangirl of Tara Hunt. =)

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Random Japanese sentence: 猫の舌はざらざらしている。 The tongue of a cat feels rough.

Mesh magic: Fifteen minutes of fame

Today's fifteen minutes of fame focused on some totally awesome social Web 2.0 orgs and people. There was Favorville, an experiment in goodwill. There was Gary King, a high school student who totally understands the power of passion (hey, he got mesh to sell him a student ticket after they'd all sold out!). There was Taking IT Global, which is terrific for engaging youth in social issues.

They rock.

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Random Japanese sentence: このワイン、すごくおいしい。 This wine is good enough to make a cat laugh.

Mesh magic: Tara Hunt

I have big dreams. I have these thoughts I thought I was alone in. Then I found the blogosphere. I found people around the world with these thoughts. I couldn't put my finger on it. It's not about a list of ideals or definitions, it's about intent. Eight months ago, I was really fortunate to be drafted through my blog to join the mecca that is Silicon Valley. I want to get a good sense because what I'm realizing eight months later is that everything has changed. I left thinking there wasn't a tech community in Toronto, that what I was thinking was crazy. We led into mesh with BarCamp. Stuff around the world. Toronto has a really amazing tech community here. I want to see and gauge, first, where everyone is at.

I like to think that everyone blogs for multiple reasons. I like to think that I'm creating my own personal history. Others to cennect with others. Others to rant, others to report on what's going on in the industry, sort of thing. Photos online.

What's happening is that this sort of media is what is buzzing the consumer the revolution.

(Again, few words, lots of pictures! =D Keynote speakers rock. They're getting it)

"Consumers." I really hate that word. We're people, we're a community...

Anti-consumerist revolution changed here. Good alternatives growing out of the

Threadless. T-shirt design. Oooh.

bowiechick.

You can't create viral. It's not about creating connections.
  • Inbound messages! Totally!
  • 100% authenticity! Totally!
  • Niche markets! Totally!
  • Open source principles! Totally!

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Random Japanese sentence: 私は猫を部屋に入れた。 I let cat in to my room.

Aftermesh

mesh was the best conference that I've ever been to. I got so much value out of it! I would have happily paid for it from my starving-grad-student budget(*) had my research supervisor not caved in and handed me his credit card.

What did I learn from mesh? I loved the keynotes by Dr. Michael Geist and Tara Hunt for both content and presentation style. I enjoyed Phillip Smith's whirlwind discussion of grassroots movements and the Web 2.0. I was fascinated by the not-quite-successful social experiment of a projected backchannel chat in Michael O'Connor Clarke's session on engaging the blogosphere.

But all of those things paled in comparison to corridor chats and afterparties. Those were totally, totally cool, and I'll tell their story after I wake up.

Here are, I think, a few of the reasons why this conference was a spectacular experience for me:

  • Barcamp and other tech gatherings meant that I already knew a few people there, which made it much easier to meet others.
  • Volunteering at the registration desk meant that I could say hi to all the people I knew and make an impression (positive, I hope!) to the organizaton.
  • Smiling certainly helped.
  • Oh, and of course writing down notes in my little black Moleskne notebook. =) That way, I can remember a little bit.

Mentors? Everywhere I turned, I found someone who was not only doing exactly what I want to do but was also happy to help me learn more about it.

I'll blog more some other time, as my eyes are closing of their own will. Maybe when I wake up tomorrow...

(*) Well, not so starving thanks to the fellowship...

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Random Japanese sentence: 犬は猫を追いかけようと木に登ろうとしたが、うまくいかなかった。 The dog's attempts to climb the tree after the cat came to nothing.