Austin Web CEO Best Practices meeting held

On Friday we had the second Austin Web CEO Best Practices meeting at River Place Country Club. The first meeting was held in April and we had 5 companies represented. The Friday meeting had 17 participants with 12 companies represented. A really great turnout. The nice thing about the meeting was that we had a really good group that was open and there was a lot of sharing of ideas and resources. Our goal for these meetings is to further support the development of successful web businesses in Austin by creating a forum and network of executives living the challenges and opportunities on a daily basis.

I wrote a blog early this year which got a lot of flack about the risk/value of starting a web-based company in Austin rather than in the Bay Area. The negative was that I got a lot of unpleasant mails about my choice of subject. The positive was that I heard from others in town who said that they were constantly asking the same question. That posting (and an initial get-to-meet others luncheon hosted by Rudy Garza of G-51 Capital) led to the formation of our Best Practices group.

A really nice recap of the meeting was written by Jeremy Bencken on his blog.

If you’d like more information about the Web CEO Best Practices group drop me an email at

Social Networking has value (and risk) for every business…

I’ve been working on a presentation recently about social networking and the application of it for all businesses. Many of my less web savvy business friends often see it as a toy for young people. What they often miss, and which I try to point out, is that Social Networking is a cultural phenomenon that has been occurring for as long as man (or woman) huddled around a campfire cooking meat and sharing learnings. The only thing that web-based Social Networking tools have done is accelerate the passing of the information and significantly broadened the reach. Think of it as the Telephone Game (I tell you something, you whisper to the person next to you, on and on until it no longer is the same something that you started with) on a global scale in hyper-fast time.

What does this have to do with businesses? ALL businesses depend on some social networking to grow their customer base – either word of mouth recommendations, public relations outreach, or referrals – to build their business. Web-based social networking platforms provide businesses with tools to accelerate these things and also broaden the reach.

Now this concept has been characterized and reported on by Gartner Group in a new study. It’s good reading for any business owner or manager. In addition, Forrester Research published a report about ‘Enterprise 2.0’ and highlighted the expected adoption of social networking tools by businesses by size:

Forrester Business 2.0 Graph

These trends can’t be ignored by traditional bricks and mortar companies. It isn’t about just protecting your reputation – it’s about accelerating the spreading of your reputation. If a business is good at what they do and proud of what they offer they should embrace the opportunity to have customers spread the good word. And be prepared to handle it when someone spreads bad news. Both can happen.

Being the Old Man in a Web 2.0 World

SXSW interactive was a great experience this week. I met quite a bit of press and got to see a lot of old friends that were in town for the show. We co-sponsored one of the official SXSW Happy Hour events and I participated as a panelist during the event. Our terrific PR firm, Porter Novelli (yes, that is a plug), took pity on me and included me in their dinner events two nights of the show. It was at one of the dinner events that a startling and painful realization hit me – I’ve become the old man in the room! People went around the room talking about their ages and I kept waiting for one of the other guys to be older than me. To my consternation (see, I use old man words), none of them were – I was the oldest. By far. Crap.

This realization brought on several reactions; 1) panic, and 2) a very strong sense of deja vu. I remember (not long ago) being the YOUNGEST at these types of events when I was at Ashton-Tate and then at Compaq and laughing at the old guys from the ancient kingdoms of IBM, Data General, and DEC trying to be cool in the PC world. How did it happen so fast that I became one of those old guys?

This swirling vortex of thoughts, emotions, and irrational mumbling led me to realize several things;

  • Just as there is barely any generation gap in music tastes between my generation and my kids (Van Halen, the Doors, and REM are all cool to the kids too), there is a very small generational gap in the web/technology space now. The gap between mainframe guys and the kids building Apple Computers and dBase software was huge. The gap between those creating Facebook and those that worked on dBase – not so much;
  • There is a lot of capability with today’s web development tools and that means lots of opportunity for wasted time. Having been around the block a few times our group knows the difference between a cool widget/feature and a cool business;
  • The casual business environment of my peer set is perfectly matched for working with the young people coming into the work force. The culture shock isn’t as great for the Apple IIgs guy working with the Facebook Widget kid. It’s actually fun for both sides;
  • The discovery of new processes and technology are shared, not passed down. I have my facebook account, I twitter, I google. Obviously I have my iTaggit account. But I was the one who told my kids about Chirpscreen (a cool social networking aggregation tool) so for that 5 minutes I was cool.

The idea behind a blog is to be able to rant and muse. I don’t have a point to this blog other than to state that I am now aware that I am the old guy in the game now and I’m watching to see what that means. As I learn and experience more I’ll let you know what I discover. Just realize that the posts will be shorter – I feel the arthritis starting in my hands all of a sudden…

What’s the Value Proposition?

Distilling down the value proposition is always important, but it’s never as easy as it seems.  Creating a simple value proposition for iTaggit has been gnawing at me because the ‘value’ depends on who the user is.  For example, the value of iTaggit for an artist is to document their work and share it with potential buyers, the value for a dealer is to showcase items and assist with SEO, and for casual collectors it’s getting the value of their items.  So is the value Organize?  Showcase?  find the dollar value?  It can be all of those.

The problem is that the value is specific to the person hearing the value proposition.  I was struck by this today here at Demo as I listened to the executives on stage try to describe what their business is.  One executive talked about his site being a ‘mobile publishing platform for connecting social contacts and building a mobile social fabric’ or something like that….  The best one that I heard today was ‘the worlds easiest database for normal people to organize, publish, and distribute data’.   Pretty good.  I’m a semi-normal person.  The only thing missing is the ‘why’.

What we finally came up with for iTaggit is that we are ‘the online destination to organize, showcase, value, and monetize the things that you are passionate about’.

Why is this important?  In my experience (and borne out by watching multiple onstage demonstrations today) you get or lose the interest of the customer in the first two to three minutes.  If that’s what it’s like when there is a captive audience in a presentation forum, what’s it like when a potential customer is looking at passive ad content?  It’s critical to figure out what resonates to optimize the conversion of prospects to ‘interested’ prospects.

Helpful books for Web Marketing and Design

I’ve started a public collection on iTaggit of books that we are finding helpful in building our website and in assisting with Web Marketing.  The collection has the book information, our ratings and comments, and link to Amazon for those that want to purchase the books.  There is a great book on Google Analytics (it sheds some light on the black hole), homepage design, and SEO.

As we find more books that are relevant I will add them to the collection.   We are scouring and learning as fast as we can.  I will share what we find through the collection!

Closing loops..

One of the challenges that web 2.0 sites have (and iTaggit also has run into) is tracking and quantifying ‘mashup’ activity. If the value proposition includes linking to other sites and providing cross-site benefits then it’s probably important to be measuring the amount of activity in this area. For example, we have an Amazon link which allows users to download info from Amazon on specific items and includes a BUY FROM AMAZON button.screen-capture.png To understand how important and/or how well this works for users it would be important to be able to track how often the features are used. And, if the user abandons the activity, where and why. The problem is that with mash-ups and cross-site integration you can only use analytics to see what’s happening on YOUR site. What happens if there is something funky going on in the other site and a high percentage of users abandon the activity?

Additionally, as we add more features like the ‘What’s it Worth To You’ feature in partnership with, we’ll need to start pruning off the mash-ups that are not effective or actively used. Once a user clicks on a feature we can count that, but does that mean the user completes the activity? Are they pleased with the results? We usually don’t know because at that point the user is ‘living’ on our partner’s site and infrastructure. They’ve gone through the teleporter and we won’t be able to see them again until they return to us. We’re spending time and energy trying to understand how to ‘close the loop’ on these cross-site activities. As we discover more things around this challenge I’ll share them here. If others have ideas or have been dealing with this issue I’d love to hear about it.

Web 2.0 challenges traditional marketing approaches

The traditional four P’s of marketing championed by Phil Kotler of Kellogg have been a cornerstone for many years. Product, Pricing, Placement, Promotion. At least TWO and maybe three of the P’s are much more difficult to manage given the changes driven by the internet and specifically Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing.

Pricing is not as straightforward and direct as it is for traditional bricks and mortar (and even web 1.0) businesses. There are multiple levels to get to the paying customer. The revenue is much more indirect than in any other business. For example, if a web 2.0 site is dependent on advertising revenue how do you control the ‘P – Price’? Yes, once you get to a certain size you can demand higher CPA or CPC rates, but you are still dependent on generating traffic to show the ads and even then your ability to drive the conversion rates necessary to recognize the revenue is semi-passive at best. And this is AFTER you have reached a traffic level where you can even set a price at all. Is this truly ‘Pricing’ in the traditional sense? Instead of focusing on the traditional levers of COGS (cost of goods sold), Gross Margin targets, and variable sales and marketing costs the web 2.0 marketeer has to focus on traffic, eCPC (effective CPC) rates, Click through rates, and ad priorities. And where the site actually generates direct revenue (such as subscriptions or premium features) there are additional metrics and drivers that the marketeer needs to focus on that are far outside the realm of traditional marketing.

Placement also has a very different meaning in the web 2.0 world. There is no shelf space (relatively) with the exception of search engine rankings and banner advertising locations. Banner ad locations also present a challenging difference. Does Banner Ad location represent Placement or Promotion? A/B testing is so critical in web 2.0 marketing! Unlike traditional advertising A/B testing where the marketing professional is testing both creative and media in the web 2.0 world the marketeer is testing location (placement) on page, media, specific site results, and creative. All of this with very questionable and inconsistent metrics between different sites and tools.

So, what does this mean? In my mind we’re beginning to see a new paradigm develop. Marketing will be much more dependent on analysis of metrics such as click through rates, exit rates, and time on site. Rather than being able to run focus groups to find out what customers ‘want’ the web 2.0 marketeer is going to have to be able to do in-depth statistical analysis to understand how the customer ‘want’ is translated into actions and web development.

Deepak Jain, the Dean of Kellogg’s School of Management, has a Masters in Mathematics and Statistics and is a top professor of marketing. I had a class with him early on and he spoke about the increasing integration of math and statistics into the marketing process. I didn’t get it at the time because I was in a traditional business. Now I do. He’s right and it’s moving faster than even he suggested.

Are others finding similar things? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. We’re beginning to look for more quant-friendly marketing interns here. Are you? Mail me at

Recognizing Actual Net Worth

Many people ask me about the genesis of iTaggit and why I would create a site for ‘things’.  The question usually is positioned based on the perspective of the person that is asking the question and it veers from one extreme to the other.  For example, a serious collector of antiques asks why we’d create this site when Antique collectors are historically not web friendly.  Others, who have a lot of clutter, ask why it’s relevant to them.  Both sides miss a critical point which is the germ of the iTaggit idea – that’s that each of their holdings represents a significant asset which is either likely undervalued or not valued at all.

The reality is that people’s net worth is made up of three major baskets (sorry for everyone who is sick of hearing this from me):

1) cash and marketable securities  – easy to value, easy to track, everyone is interested in them, etc.
2) large value items  such as homes, cars, boats – a little harder to value, need intermediaries to sell, etc.
3) everything else you own – very difficult to value, hard to track, really hard to connect to others with interest.

Creating a set of tools and an eco-system of services is what I view as our mission.  Helping users convert their items to true assets is our overriding goal and mission.   It’s not only about organizing or selling items (which are both important aspects of converting items to assets) but also about protecting the value of your assets.  Here is a blurb from a recent US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT on managing ‘clutter’:

“Everyone should inventory his or her possessions in case disaster strikes. Right. “it’s the unusually prepared person who has done an inventory,” concedes Michael Barry of the Insurance Information Institute. But Hurricane Katrina and the California wildfires are spurring people to action. Getting ahead of disaster is as easy as walking around the house with a camera. Then send the pics to a safe place outside the home. That bare minimum can help reconstruct belongings after a fire, flood or burglary.”

My mission is to help users optimize their net worth by helping them recognize their true net worth, whether they want to convert items to cash (sell) or just organize and value what they have.  As the economy and the equity markets come under more and more pressure people are going to need to be able to harness the value of everything that they own.  I think it’s an important cause and continue to try to drive iTaggit towards providing a valuable service for our users.