Posts Tagged ‘Ziff Davis’

Extend your personal network today – especially if you're an entrepreneur

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

I’m not one for networking. In fact, I’m a little bit shy. You probably wouldn’t think that if you met me, but it’s true. On my way to an event when I know that I have to meet a lot of new people, I am getting myself psyched up for it. Afterwards; I relax. Or sometimes collapse.

So this advice is not given lightly.

Go network. Do it now. Especially if you’re an entrepreneur.

HandshakeI have to admit, I was a networking doubter. Reconnecting with people who I haven’t seen in years, reaching out to people who are nearly strangers…these things are daunting. But since I started Pure Incubation, every single time that I’ve talked to someone or met with someone in an effort to extend my personal network, it’s helped my business.

Today I met with a finance guy who I worked with about four years ago. He helped package up the financials for Connexus Media back in 2004 when it was sold to Ziff Davis. I got in touch with him because it seemed like it would be a good idea to get him involved now so that he will have an understanding of my businesses for when I might be ready to sell or raise some capital for one of them.

This meeting was fantastic. Not only was he enthusiastic about what I was doing (which was very encouraging) but he offered to help out with advice and direction until I need to bring him on board. Along with that, he has his own ecommerce business that is totally interesting and he inspired me with some stories about how he is making money selling marshmellow roasting sticks (his biggest money-maker) and furniture made from old skis.

Networking might be difficult for you, it might not come naturally, but extend your personal network today. Send an email or give a call to someone who you either know or admire, and see where it leads.

Photo by Mykl Roventine

How to get over the fear and start your own business

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

Starting a business all begins with the first step - the statement, which then turns into a belief, that later turns into a mantra  – that I AM STARTING A BUSINESS. This step happens differently for everyone, but this is my story of how I got over the fear and started a business, supplemented with the stories of friends and acquaintances and the entrepreneurs featured in the book Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days. (All the quotes below are from that great book. If you are an entrepreneur, buy it today, it will inspire you.)

Start image

I’m convinced that in order to be able to get over the fear and start your own business, most people go through some combination of the following things:

You can’t keep doing what you have been doing. I am pretty sure that starting a business involves some level of desperation. For me, when I made the decision to start my own thing, it was early 2007, I was working for Ziff Davis Media, heading the product development team for the Web Buyer’s Guide. Things were going great with the division – we were one of the favorites in the company, making money hand over fist with a long list of the top clients in the industry. I was working with an amazing team of people, I truly liked and respected my bosses and the people who worked for me. But I was growing increasingly dissatisfied with my job. The problem was, with things going so well, I had little hope that they would ever change. The better things went with the group, the worse I felt about the job because I had to keep things going, to make sure that the clients stayed happy, to just do more and more and more and more of the same.

I love building new things. I like the creativity of it, the innovation of it, the challenge of trying to figure out how to solve problems. I enjoy gathering a team of people who can all collaborate to get something done. And I like the thrill of launching something new. I couldn’t possibly stand to stay still, the lack of creativity was sucking me dry. I had to do something else.

You realize that the only way to do what you want to do is to start your own thing.  Once I knew that I wanted to do something else, I knew that I wanted it to be related to using the Internet, and I knew that I wanted it to be creative. But the more that I thought about it, the more that I knew that going to just some other company wasn’t going to solve my problems. I already worked with really great, smart people. And another company would make me specialize, as well. I realized that what I really wanted to do was have the flexibility to do lots of different things, all the time, just the way that I wanted them done. There is no job description that reads that way.

“I think the hallmark of a really good entrepreneur is that you’re not really going to build one specific company. The goal – at least the way I think about entrepreneurship – is you realize one day that you can’t really work for anyone else. You have to start your own thing. It almost doesn’t matter what that thing is.” – Max Levchin, Cofounder PayPal

You understand the odds are against you, but you believe that you will beat the odds. The statistics for businesses to fail are staggering. It’s something like 8 out of 10 businesses don’t make it past the first year, and 8 out of 10 of those don’t make it past the second year. Something horrible like that. But, I believe I will be one of the successful ones. Why? Because I know I can do it, which is not a good reason, I’m sure. But if I didn’t believe that I would succeed, I would never have started in the first place. There has to be some level of (sometimes irrational) optimism in every business founder.

You figure out your biggest points of fear and try to work around them. For me, the prospect of starting a company led to three major fears. One, I didn’t know how to do the stuff related to starting a business because I hadn’t done it before. So I found some mentors and a business partner who have vast experience in this area and who can help me when I have questions. Two, I was concerned about putting Chris (my husband) and I in debt because of the business. I overcame that fear by taking a very small salary out of the initial seed money. I took a fairly substantial pay cut, but having just a small monthly income gives me the peace of mind that I am at least not going backward in my financial situation. Three, I was concerned that everyone I knew would think I was crazy. That issue was not something I could fix, but it was a personality flaw anyway, so I decided that being faced with that type of opposition would help me to grow as a person so it was worth facing the fear. The fears will be different for everyone, but all business owners will have to figure out how to face them.

“About the next day after I said no to starting Apple…my friend Allen Baum called me in the afternoon and he said, ‘Look, you can start Apple and go into management and get rich, or you can start Apple and stay an engineer and get rich.’ As soon as he said it was OK to do engineering, that really freed me up. My psychological block was really that I didn’t want to start a company. Because I was just afraid. In business and politics, I wasn’t going to be a real strong participant. I wasn’t going to tell other people how to do things. I wasn’t going to run things ever in my life…I just couldn’t run a company. But then one person said I could be an engineer. That was all I needed to know, that ‘OK, I’ll start this company and I’ll just be an engineer.’ To this day, I’m still on the org chart, on the bottom of the org chart – never once been anything but an engineer who works.” -Steve Wozniak, Cofounder, Apple Computer

You realize that other people do this all the time. The other thing that really helped me was to realize that other people start companies all the time, which led to the feeling that if they could do it, I could do it too. Chris started a business in 2006, and it was doing well, so that was encouraging. I was part of a company that was a start-up that was acquired by Ziff Davis, so I had seen how it was done firsthand. Although starting a company was daunting, just knowing that other people had started companies in the past was helpful.

“We both had parents who were entrepreneurs, so the idea of running your own business was a normal thing. There are people who come from backgrounds where they’re used to working for a company, and they couldn’t dream of doing it themselves and not having that safety net. When your parents and family are entrepreneurs, you know it’s nothing special. I worked at big businesses and I worked at small businesses beforehand, so the idea of starting your own business was just a normal thing.” – Dan Bricklin, cofounder, Software Arts

You weigh the benefits vs. the risks and responsibilities. For me, the timing was right to start a business. I was married, with an income-producing husband (who is also an entrepreneur, but his company, which builds medical devices for spine surgeries, had four submissions into the FDA for approval and it looked good that they were going to make it). I didn’t have any kids, no mortgage, no debt. My risk was very low because my responsibility was light. This is one of the reasons that so many young people are starting companies, because it doesn’t hurt them too much to do it. If things fail, they can always put on their resumes that they were the founder of a company. People who have a lot of responsibility have a harder time making this jump, and it is really important that they carefully weigh the risks before starting anything.

You jump in, even if it’s stupid. At some point, after you consider all these things, you just take the plunge. For me, that involved going to my bosses, thanking them for everything they had done for me, and resigning from my job. I was lucky because I was able to make a slow transition, I gave them a lot of notice, and I took some time off between Ziff Davis and my new business. Not everyone will have the luxury, but at some point, that statement has to be made: “I’m going to start a company.”

“There are a lot of programmers that are very tentative about starting their own companies. There are a lot of working programmers doing something they hate, with some company that they hate, but they need money to pay the mortgage. So they figure, ‘I’ll develop something in my spare time. I’ll put in 1 hour every night and 2 hours on the weekends and I’ll start selling it by downloads.’…But because they never really take the leap and quit their job, they can give up their dream at any time. And 99.9% of them will actually give up their dream. If they take the leap, quit their job, go do it full-time – no matter how much it sucks – and convince one other person to do the same thing with them, they are going to have a much, much higher chance of actually getting somewhere. Because they either have to succeed or get a job. Sometimes ‘succeed’ seems like the easier path than actually getting a job, which is depressing. So quit your day job.” – Joel Spolsky, cofounder, Fog Creek Software

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about what happens after you make the leap.

Rubel's ramblings on Web 2.0 are getting old – and more dramatic (if possible)

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

I don’t personally know Steve Rubel, but I do read his blog, and enjoy his perspective on things. As a former technology editor, I realize the fine line that PR folks (or people who are senior vice presidents at the world’s largest PR companies) have to walk with journalists, as Rubel experienced first hand when he pissed off Jim Louderback by posting a negative comment about PC Magazine on Twitter earlier this year.

However, I have to say that the recent over-the-top posting by Rubel about the death of Web 2.0 – all stemming from his post that featured the image of a drunk kool-aid guy – is getting out of hand. Not because of the point he is making, but because of the terrible turns of phrase that he is using to stir up drama. Here is a small sampling:

-The Web 2.0 World is Skunk Drunk on Its Own Kool-Aid (10/29)

-Advertisers, Only You Can Save Web 2.0 (10/31)

-Five Simple Sobriety Steps for Web 2.0 Kool Aid Boozers (11/5)

-Help Wanted: Warm Bodies That Can Spell Web 2.0 (11/13)

It was this last post that pushed me over the edge. Not because of the point he was making or even the title. But because of this quote:

“I will leave this to you to decide if this is a sign of a bubble or not. However, on the surface, it all looks very reminiscent of a bygone era. To quote Prince, ‘Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1999.’ “

I can’t believe he pulled out Prince.

One thing I do have to say, though – hire Rubel to do your company’s PR. He’s clearly demonstrated a talent for finding a successful angle and going with it. These posts have been incredibly popular.

KnowledgeStorm acquired by TechTarget

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

TechTarget logoKnowledgeStorm logo
This would have been huge news in my previous life working for Ziff Davis. It will be interesting to see how this changes the IT lead generation industry. With KnowledgeStorm and Bitpipe (TechTarget’s lead gen engine) teaming up, this leaves four major players: the Web Buyer’s Guide (Ziff Davis), IDG Connect, BNET (from CNET) and the KnowledgeStorm/Bitpipe combo.

Prior to this acquisition, KnowledgeStorm was really the only independent IT lead generation option – all the others are tied to a known IT publisher with a large audience. I’m not sure how TechTarget plans to combine the services, but each has something to offer – Bitpipe has the audience and reach, and KnowledgeStorm has an existing client base and superior technology. It will be interesting to see how this shapes up.

The solution to search engine fatigue

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

Internet users are tired of trying to use a search engine to find something that they want, and not finding that thing. This seems obvious, but it’s the conclusion that’s been reached following a recent survey of 1,001 U.S. adults called “State of Search.” The research was conducted by Kelton Research for Autobytel. The primary finding from the study is that 72% of searchers have “search engine fatigue” meaning that they become impatient or frustrated when they are unable to quickly find the exact information they need when using a search engine.

I’m actually surprised that the number isn’t closer to 100%.

Some statistics from the report (thanks to Search Engine Land for this information):

- 65.4% of Americans say they’ve spent two or more hours in a single sitting searching for specific information on search engines.

- When asked to name their #1 complaint about the process, 25% cited a deluge of results, 24% cited a predominance of commercial (paid) listings, 18.8% blamed the search engine’s inability to understand their keywords (forcing them to try again), and 18.6% were most frustrated by disorganized/random results.

Search Engine Land draws the conclusion that this is an argument for personalization in search, and in part it may be. But I think that these results also point to the need for comprehensive and information-rich vertical search alternatives to aid in the buying process – not as a replacement to the popular search engines, but as a supplemental tool.

The difficulty of using the popular search engines in the buying process is nothing new. This study was conducted to illustrate problems in the car-buying process, but the same issues happen in other product buying cycles, including the IT buying process. When I worked on the Web Buyer’s Guide, the goal of the site and technology that we built was to provide a better technology buying process for IT professionals. At the time, I would do a demonstration to explain to people why this type of vertical search engine was essential for the buying process – and why Google and Yahoo wouldn’t work for buyers who were trying to do the research that’s needed to make a product purchase.

I used the term “CRM” (customer relationship management) to demonstrate. First, I would type “CRM” into Google to see the results – 83,900,000. I then modified the search to CRM Products – 34,300,000. Still too many results. This is the #1 problem with search engines for the 25% of people who complained about a “deluge of results” and why, in the survey results, nearly 40% of Americans described finding the “right and relevant” information in the big search engines – Google and Yahoo – as “overwhelming and time-consuming.”

The next search that I did was with WBG’s top competitor – KnowledgeStorm, another IT product directory. For the search, I went to their CRM page and asked someone in the crowd to name a random CRM company. Different answers were given, but usually one of the top companies was named, such as Pivotal, Oracle or Salesforce.com. Typically, if I was to search for products from any of those companies in the KnowledgeStorm directory, they weren’t included in the list because they weren’t KnowledgeStorm’s paying customers. This type of situation causes two levels of frustration for users, both because all the results that are displayed are commercial (paid) listings, and because this forces buyers to go elsewhere to find a complete list of CRM products when 85% of buyers want to find a one-stop shop for everything related to their purchase.

To overcome the buying process issues that both the search engines and limited product directories have, we built a vertical directory based on technology product categories. This vertical directory included every bit of information that Ziff Davis had about each of those categories – editor reviews, articles, news, user ratings, etc. – combined with a comprehensive product directory and resource library with information from the IT vendors themselves, including white papers, videos, etc. By surrounding each technology category with all the relevant content in each category and a comprehensive product list, we allowed IT buyers to be able to get a complete view into the product that they were attempting to buy.

In the State of Search report, nearly 25% of respondents said that they actually put off purchasing a car because they found the overall car-buying process too overwhelming or frustrating. Autobytel built a vertical directory to try to solve those issues, and I think that they might have hit on a viable solution if they are able to execute.

~ Black & White ~